Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)
Everywhere I have lived for the past six years has had a patch of Stinging nettles, either introduced by me (by seed) or native to that area. Stinging nettles are native to Europe, however we do have a native species that is very similar in herbal affect and use, Wood Nettles or Laportea canadensis. Wood nettles are commonly found along trails in wooded forests.
How do you identify Stinging nettles? Well, this is gonna hurt, but it’s worth it to positively identify the plant. Basically, you rub the leaves (especially the hairs underneath the leaves) and see if you get stung. It should feel like a hundred tiny little bites by small ants.
It’s not for the faint of heart, but I’ve heard some wooly stories about this plant ally. One friend told me about a friend’s grandmother in Norway who would roll around in a patch of nettles ~ naked ~ to calm her arthritis pains. And, the Romans were known to lash their bodies with nettles for similar issues or to bring heat or circulation to that area of the body.
Let’s move on past the sensational side of nettles and focus on her nutrition. Herbal elder Susan Weed writes:
Stinging nettle has about 10% protein. It’s a very rapid re-builder of beautiful skin and beautiful hair and is loaded with high quality minerals. A cup of stinging nettle infusion can contain up to 250 mg of calcium. That same cup can have over 1000 IU equivalents of vitamin A and is one of the richest sources of chlorophyll.
I don’t take any kind of supplement or pills, any kind of vitamins or minerals.I depend on drinking nourishing herbal infusions which are much stronger than herbal teas. …Using dried herbs (drying concentrates the herbs’ goodness and nutrition), and by using a lavish quantity of herb (30 grams or 1 ounce by weight is usually between a cup and a cup and a half) is how we get the most nutrition from it.
To watch Susan Weed demonstrate how to make an herbal infusion, please watch this short video.
It’s true. I talk about herbal infusions all the time. However, herbal infusions basically ARE our multi-vitamin. Nutrient-packed and NON-aromatic herbs like nettles, red clover, oatstraw, comfrey leaf, alfalfa, and dandelion leaf, are all excellent herbs to make infusions from for high vitamin and mineral content.
As one herbalist taught me, humans eat plants and plants eat rocks. Humans don’t eat rocks! Therefore, we need to get our vitamins and minerals from rocks. Those of us low in calcium and magnesium would be wise to integrate at least 3-5 infusions (a quart-jar worth) a week.
Nettles are not only nourishing, they are tonic to the adrenals. For those worn out by chronic stress, nettles is the perfect herbal ally for both her nutritional and medicinal uses. In infusion or tincture form, nettles will tonify and restore cellular integrity and function of the adrenals. It is also good to take for urinary tract health.
At Sweet Gum Springs Apothecary, this herbal ally is in many of our nourishing tea blends. She is also in our Menopause Formula, our Nighty Night Formula, BLISS Tincture, and our Prostate Health Formula.
If you decide to plant her yourself, remember that she is in the mint family and will need plenty of space to roam! She will spread via her rhizomes and fill out almost any space you give her.
She is best harvested in the Spring and in the Fall. In the Deep South, she will die back in the Summer and then offer another harvest in the Fall. I dry her and store her to add to broths and to make nourishing infusions.
Some other uses of nettles range from hair rinses to wild pestos! For those with brown or dark brown hair, you can use the infusion as a hair rinse to add luster and shine to your hair. And finally, you can wilt the nettles (so that they lose their sting) and add them to your favorite pesto recipe.