A Delicious Superfood with Many Uses
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of those nutritious wild foods that has a wonderful range of uses. Many know this prickly plant for it’s allergy-taming properties, but nettle is also a superfood in its own right. High in vitamins A, C, and K — plus a range of B-vitamins and minerals — it makes for a healthy addition to stews and soups. What’s more, the tasty seeds can be used in smoothies, cooked into patties that are high in natural fats, or sprinkled over any dish. When nettle is in season and bountiful, I like to dry the leaves and seeds for use throughout the year.
Beyond allergies, nettle is helpful for cooling inflammation, lowering blood pressure, treating eczema and arthritis, healing wounds and burns, as well as balancing blood sugar levels. Historically, Roman soldiers rubbed the leaves on their skin to stay warm, while ancient Egyptians were known to use it for back pain and arthritis. Today, nettle is widely used in Germany as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
Nettle also makes a beautiful fiber that you can use to make clothing — I personally have a nettle shirt!
Interested in giving nettle a try? An easy-to-use tincture is available in the apothecary!
Calms hay fever. Famously regarded as an outstanding natural treatment for seasonal allergies, nettle extract has been shown to reduce the inflammation that sparks hay fever symptoms. Part of this mechanism involves blocking histamine receptors and hindering the release of compounds that trigger allergy reactions. One double-blind study found that 57% of the participants reported that their seasonal allergies were significantly reduced with the use of nettle.
Increases available free testosterone. When blood testosterone isn’t bound to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), it’s more readily available for use by the body. The reason for this action is that stinging nettle roots are rich in lignans that bind to SHBG, thereby freeing up circulating testosterone in the system. Interestingly, research has found that nettle also helps to prevent the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.
Reduces the pain of arthritis and gout. An animal study involving an extract of stinging nettle discovered that it was just as effective as celastrol from thunder god vine in reducing inflammation through powerful antioxidant action. It also suppressed what is known as human leukocyte elastase, a compound that encourages inflammation.3,4 Another study found that participants who took a stinging nettle extract experienced significantly reduced arthritic pain and inflammation. Using the herb as an internal tincture is easiest. It can also be applied externally by soaking a cotton pad in nettle tincture, then placing it over the painful joint.
To learn more about the additional benefits of stinging nettle, see this post.
Where to Forage Wild Stinging Nettle
Nettle thrives in areas with water and can be found along rivers, streams, and lakes. It prefers temperate climates that provide plenty of moisture and sunlight. Look for plants that are up to 8 ft. (2.5m) tall with lance-shaped leaves around 1-4 inches (2.5-10cm) long and 1/2-11/2 inches (1.25-4cm) wide. The leaves are deeply toothed. A telltale sign that you have the correct plant is that the leaf’s lower surface is covered sparsely with stinging hairs. Flowers with 4 creamy green to pinkish petals bloom between June and September.
Harvesting tips. I highly recommend only harvesting the nettle tips as this will allow for new growth to occur, so that you can harvest nettle throughout the growing season.
Similar to spinach when cooked, nettle leaves are a tasty and exceedingly healthy wild green! You can remove the stinging hairs by quickly blanching the leaves in boiling water before eating. But I also eat the leaves raw by simply folding them over. Nettle leaves can also be juiced and freeze-dried.
Additionally, you can enjoy a nettle infusion. Pour one cup boiling water over 1 tablespoon dried and crushed nettle leaves. Cover and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain and drink twice daily. If you are using nettle to relieve allergy symptoms, add a bit of local raw to your infusion for additional relief. Personally I prefer to use a nettle tincture ** for full potency and effectiveness.
Recipe. Nettle Pesto. Blanch 3 cups of nettles. Add 1 garlic clove, 3 cups parsley (or other wild green), 1/3 cup pine nuts, 1/2 cup parmesan. Season to taste with salt. Blend while drizzling 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil.
The hairs on stinging nettle cause skin irritation — always use puncture-resistant gloves while harvesting/handling. Eat only the young leaves as older leaves develop cystoliths, which irritate the kidneys. Since stinging nettle may increase free testosterone, do not use it if suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Avoid use during pregnancy. Consult with your healthcare practitioner if you are breastfeeding before using nettle.
Roll Up Your Sleeves and Do it Yourself?
Are you interested in making your own herbal remedies at home and learning about the many plants, lichens, and mushrooms you can find out your own back door? If so please pick up a copy of my book: "The Lost Book Of Herbal Remedies: The Healing Power of Plant Medicine" today!