I’m sitting watching the snow fall outside my window and dreaming about stinging nettles; scientific name Urtica dioica. I haven’t been able to find any reliable information about whether or not this springtime herb grows wild in my region. To be honest, at this point I haven’t looked very hard. I’ve just brushed the surface with a quick google search. But, regardless of whether they grow here or not, I know I can cultivate them in this climate. WIN FOR ME!
If I cannot find them in the woods this spring, I’ll be planting a few patches in our new space, for sure. And the thought of that is exciting for me! I’ve dreamt of planting out a piece of property for many years now. This spring I will be getting a start on exactly that. Stinging nettles are one of my top must-haves.
This plant is not particularly easy to cultivate. So, I am hoping it’s already on the property and easily accessible. It can take some time to establish a patch of stinging nettles. But once you have managed to get one going it will likely show itself to be a prolific perennial.
It is very important to choose the space you want to grow your nettles in thoughtfully, as it can take 3 years to successfully remove a patch once it is well-established. Far better to be certain you are planting them exactly where you want them from the start!
Harvesting stinging nettle is best done in the early part of the season when the plant is young, and before it begins to flower. The leaves are tender and tasty then. Opposed to later in the year, when the extraordinary amount of fiber in this plant can make it tough and unpleasant to eat. Additionally, stinging nettles produces calcium carbonate crystals as it ages. These crystals can be irritating to the kidneys when ingested.
If you want to extend the harvesting window for stinging nettles take only the tops of the plants. Doing this will cause the plant to bush out at the bottom and push new growth to the top. This new growth can then be harvested, sometimes into the summer months in cooler climates, while it too is young and tender.
Always wear gloves while harvesting stinging nettle, as you don’t want to be stung by the plant. This plant has tiny hair-like protrusions covering both it’s leaves and stems. The ends of these protrusions are needle-like and poke into the skin. There they release a toxic substance, causing an irritating rash that can last several hours or more. Even up to 24 hours. This rash is often quite itchy.
However, the rash is not ALL bad! Indigenous peoples have been using the sting of the nettle plant medicinally for years. It is a reliable ally in the quest to reduce arthritic pain. And will often help relieve acute musculoskeletal pain.
So, avoid the sting and save yourself the trouble of dealing with the unpleasant reaction it causes in skin. Unless you’re using it as treatment for an ailment, of course.
If you choose to use the plant as a food source, and it makes a damn good one, then you will have to negate it’s ability to sting before you eat it. This is an easy process and can be done in just minutes. Simply place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Then immerse the plant in the boiling water for a duration of about 2 minutes. Drain it and use the nettles to cook with as you would use any other green.
I dream of fresh nettle pasta, pesto, soup, and sautéed greens. Yet, although I always intended to, I have never cooked with fresh nettles.
If you’ve been around the blog for awhile, or if you follow me on social media, you may have heard me say that my wild foraging skills are not all that proficient. And because of that very fact, I have never really taken the time to locate and properly identify this beautiful plant. But I will be on that soon (spring, remember), and then I will bring it into my kitchen and experiment with it’s culinary gifts to my hearts delight.
The stinging nettle plant has so much to offer as a culinary herb. It is highly nutritious; containing notable measures of many vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. AND it is known to work effectively across all body constitutions. To quote renown herbalist Matthew Wood it is, ” … one of the most generally useful plants in the pharmacopoeia.”
It is quite high in calcium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, silicon, selenium, zinc, carotenoids, protein, chlorophyl, chromium, cobalt, phosphorous, potassium, and riboflavin.
It has average levels of iron, niacin, and tin. And contains trace amounts of aluminum.
It is commonly known to be a reliable way for one to boost their iron levels, in spite of the fact that it contains only average amounts of this element.
It’s high level of nutrients makes it a champion at reducing muscle cramping; including menstrual cramps. And it’s high mineral content is perfect for supporting and strengthening hair, nails, bones, and teeth.
Drinking nettle tea/infusions is safe long term, as it is a food grade herb.
Partaking of nettle beverages on a pretty regular basis provides one with a plethora of health benefits, including; tonifying the urinary system, reducing allergy/hayfever symptoms (consume for at least one month before allergy/hayfever season begins to see results), relieving joint pain, and providing an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. It’s anti-inflammatory effects are very useful for those who suffer from type 2 diabetes.
This herb was one of my go-to recommendations for clientele in my herb shop, as it’s nutrient value makes it a great adaptogen herb. It supports overall health. To quote, yet another renown herbalist, David Hoffman, “When in doubt, choose nettle.”
It has a diuretic effect that, while person specific, is quite strong in those it works for.
It helps to detoxify the body by supporting the health of it’s elimination organs. And it’s high fiber content makes it a great ally for gut health, which is also a fundamental part of the body’s ability to detoxify itself.
Many herbalists recommend using stinging nettle tea/infusions to conquer feelings of being run down and lack of motivation in performing day to day tasks.
Combining those tea/infusions with a nettle tincture, made from the plants leaf, will provide marked, long term relief for these issues.
Nettle seeds are also great for these types of issues. Providing just a pinch to one teaspoon of these little powerhouses in one’s diet can address burn out issues. Particularly those related to adrenal deficiency matters. Just this small amount of stinging nettle seed has the ability to help restore energy levels and regain physical strength.
Stinging nettle seeds are very often used in cases of degenerative kidney disease. They are quite literally food for the kidneys.
You may have gotten the sense by now that this plant is easy to love. It is PRICKLY! No doubt about it! But EASY to love nonetheless.
And in closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how fond cows are of the stinging nettle plant. So, if you raise cattle, do yourself, and them, a great big favor and plant a big ‘ol patch of stinging nettle for them to graze. Make sure it’s a BIG ‘ol patch though. They will mow it down in no time at all!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed health professional. You are solely responsible for researching herbs to determine how you choose to use them. If you decide to make them a part of your health care plan, I take no responsibility for the results of that decision.