Each Spring throughout the country, herbalists take part in a yearly ritual of going out to the field and garden to gather nettles. By March you can start to see these vivid green prickly warriors jumping through the ground to remind everyone of life, renewal, possibility, growth. During the winter months I can start to feel bogged down, stagnant, a little uptight and blue. I long for sunlight caressing my arms and the glow of movement and play. Nettles helps me remember.
When we think of this bright green ally, I think of two main things- nutrition and vigor. As to the first, there is nothing much like nettles on land, except the half beach/half aquatic seaweeds that are also nutritional powerhouses. Nettles carries a wide assortment of vitamins and minerals and is especially rich in iron and calcium. Iron is essential for healthy red blood cells and calcium is important for bone growth and density, healthy teeth, sending nerve signals, muscle contraction and a normal heartbeat.
Nutritional Information gathered from National Nutrient Database for 1 cup of nettles:
Calcium: 428 mg RDA- 1000 mg
Iron 1.46 mg 18 mg
Magnesium 50.73 mg 400 mg
Phosphorus 63.19 mg 1000 mg
Potassium 297.26 mg 3500 mg
Sodium 3.56 mg 2400 mg
Zinc 0.30 mg 15 mg
Niacin 0.35 mg 20 mg
Vitamin B-6 0.09 mg 2 mg
Folate 12.46 mcg 1000 mcg
Vitamin A, 1789.79 iu 5000 IU
Vitamin K 443.75 mcg 120 mcg
In terms of vigor, I can think of nothing better than imagining Roman soldiers whipping themselves into a frenzy with nettles before battle. The small needle like hairs on a nettle plant deliver formic acid, acetylcholine and histamine into the skin and cause an allergic reaction. While annoying and frustrating to many people who breezily brush by this plant, nettle’s stinging quality has actually been used as a rubefacient for thousands of years for conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism and musculoskeletal pain. Its an interesting therapy that mostly herbalists love.
Let’s look at some of the key ways nettles improves health outside of its tonic nutritional qualities.
Astringent Nettles is quite astringent and useful for both strengthening digestive mucosal tissue as well as reducing excessive menstrual blood flow. The tincture can even be applied in a small cloth to reduce nosebleeds.
Allergies Numerous studies have shown that the anti-histaminic effect of nettles helps reduce symptoms of hay fever and seasonal allergies. They reduce activity at histamine receptors and inhibit mast cells from releasing pro-inflammatory constituents that induce allergic responses.
Diuretic/Kidney Support: Nettles has a noted diuretic effect that is useful for those with excessive water retention (edema). The diuretic effect makes it useful as an herb in a formula for UTIs where there needs to be some flushing as well as strengthening and toning of the urinary system.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia. This illness is the process of enlargement of the prostate that is common in older men that can lead to difficulty with urination and other problems. Nettle root has been noted in studies to reduce the symptoms of this disorder.
Mother’s Milk Research has shown that nettles improved breast milk production in a treatment group better than placebo. One study showed an 80 % increase in lactation.
Trophorestorative. This is a fancy herbalist word that means that the herb has a tonic effect on a specific organ or part of the body. In this case nettle seeds have long been used as a kidney and uro-genital trophorestorative. Nettle seeds have been given to racehorses to improve performance and to the elderly for improved energy and stamina. Herbalist Jonathan Treasure also talks at length about them in this article here . Nettle seeds have been described as “adrenal” tonics for those who have been exhausted and overwhelmed by the challenges of life. Indeed they do provide a boost of energy and vigor- but I would caution offering it to people who are already frazzled, anxious and overstimulated as the seeds could exacerbate these symptoms. Best for those who appeared tired, depleted, exhausted with few heat or dryness symptoms.
Alterative Again this is another fancy herbalist word and in this case describes altering, or improving the efficiency and metabolism in certain organ systems. Often the term alternative is synonymous with old school terms like “blood cleanser”. In this way nettles has been used to improve hepatic and digestive function and clear up skin eruptions and particularly eczema tic “weeping” skin.
We need to really think about the process of gathering nettles as this plant is an amazing resource for dozens of pollinators. We also should be concerned with gathering them in any place that has toxic elements in the soil. Nettles can act as a hoover vacuum cleaner to the soil and draw up those toxins which we then consume.
When gathering, consider going to a place where there is a large patch and you are gathering no more than 5-10 percent of the total “clan”. Clip only the top third in the Spring before the plant flowers. Not only are the nettles more vital and full of “qi” in the Spring, but cutting the flowers also removes important food sources for pollinators. So gather the top third in the Spring using gloves and then place them in paper bags to carry home.
Hang those nettles to dry in a warm (but not hot) part of the house. I hang them up on a line by either clipping them with clothespins or simply folding them in half and letting them droop over a line. Drying takes about 7 days. Then strip the leaves from the stalks and cut up further with a knife or a blender and then place the dried leaf in a mason jar out of direct light and label.
You can make a tincture of nettles and it creates an absolutely beautiful emerald green medicine. I make this with 60 % alcohol 1:2 fresh. The tincture is useful for those spring allergies and hay fever at 2-4 droppers/day. I also offer the tincture in energetic drop doses of one or two drops for increasing vigor, to martial the vital forces and bring a sense of vigor and strength. Nettles works best in whole form taken in infusions or as part of meals. For its full spectrum of vitamins and minerals I recommend taking it in infusion form as shown below.
2 cups blanched nettle leaves
1 cup olive oil
1 cup roasted almonds
1 tsp salt (and more to taste)
1 tbsp lemon juice
4 garlic cloves
Bring a pot of water to a boil, then turn the water off. Add about 25-30 nettle tops and allow to soak for two minutes. (This removes the stinging quality to the nettles). Then strain and pat dry. Cut the stalks away from the leaves and discard the stalks. Add nettle leaves and all other ingredients to a blender. Pulse until pesto texture is smooth.
Add one cup of dried cut nettles to a quart mason jar. Add boiling water to the top and allow tp sit overnight or for about 8-12 hours. The longer steep insures that more untrue its will ne extracted for consumption. Then strain and sip throughout day.
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
5 -6 large yukon gold potatoes- chopped
1 large carrot- chopped
1 small onion chopped
2 cups blanched fresh nettle tops
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt to taste (start with about 2 teaspoons)
Black pepper to taste
Add chicken stock and water in a pot and bring to a simmer while adding potatoes. Take about 30 tops of nettles and then blanch them in a pot of hot water for about 2 minutes. The nettles will no longer sting and you can transfer them to a plate and cut the leaves from the stalks and discard the stalks. Those 30 tops should turn into about 2-3 cups of soaking wet nettle leaves.
Now gently saute the onions and carrot in a pan with the oil and then add to pot. Stir in the spice, lemon juice and salt. Allow ingredients to simmer for 60 minutes, then add to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Delish!
Common Name: Nettles, Stinging Nettles
Latin Name: Utica dioica (other sp)
Parts Used: Leaves, roots, seeds
Energetics: neutral, drying, stimulating
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, galactagogue, alterative, diuretic, kidney trophorestorative (seeds), nutritionally tonic, anti-allergenic, rubefacient (as external agent by whipping the body), antioxidant
Mental Health: The signs for someone needing nettles often show up as someone who appears weak, tired, rosy, with little vigor, tending towards apathy and sluggish depression. Avoid for those who appear wired, excitable, nervous.
Contraindications: Those taking blood thinners, those with high anxiety and insomnia, first stage pregnancy
This article written by Jon Keyes, Licensed Professional Counselor and herbalist. For more articles like this, please go to www.Hearthsidehealing.com. You can also find me at the Facebook group Herbs for Mental Health.
Mineral Properties and Dietary Value of Raw and Processed Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica L.) Rutto, Xu, Ramirez and Brandt
Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Roscheck, Fink. McMichael and Alberte
Efficacy of Supportive Therapy of Allergic Rhinitis by Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) root extract: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo- Controlled, Clinical Trial. Bakhshaee, Mohammed, Esmaeili, et al
Urtica spp.: Ordinary Plants with Extraordinary Properties Kregiel, Pawlikowska and Antolak
Ghorbanibirgani, Khalili and Zamani
Effect of a galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and prolactin secretion by mothers of preterm babies. Ozalkaya, Aslandodgu, Ozkoral, et al.
Lipophilic stinging nettle extracts possess potent anti-inflammatory activity, are not cytotoxic and may be superior to traditional tinctures for treating inflammatory disorders Johnson, Sohn, Inman et al
Nettle Herb Rosalee de la Foret
Nettle Monograph Kelsey Barrett, Herb Rally
A Family Herb: Stinging Nettle Leaf Uses Angela Justis
Nettles- A Modern Herbal M Grieve
Nettle- Urtica dioica Sajah PophamFollow me on Instagram