Stinging Nettle; Urtica dioica

Spending time with Stinging Nettle has me reflecting upon my own life more and more each day. Nature is my constant, my teacher. One day when I was harvesting this plant (Urtica Diotica), I naturally was avoiding the insect riddled leaves and was choosing the more intact, healthy looking ones.

But then my mind launched back in time to when I was in school studying horticulture, learning about plants and the way they defend themselves against insects and other things. They release different allelochemicals once they are attacked in order to stop their predators from eating them. It dawned on me that perhaps…those nettle leaves that had the insect bites and damage…was it possible that they actually have more medicinal value because of these defensive chemicals they released? And I asked my teacher and she confirmed that yes, this is in fact where the most medicine concentrates within the plant…around the edges of where the plant has been eaten or damaged!

This made me question the way I see all of my challenges and chewed up pieces within myself, and the world. I’m becoming increasingly aware of the fact that the broken parts of our spirits can be source to our deepest strength. We don’t have to avoid these parts of ourselves. These experiences of turmoil force us to release our most vital medicines that help us and others too. It is startling, the truths you can find in a nettle patch eaten by bugs.

Another shocking study found that people who struggle with arthritis find significant relief after being STUNG by this amazing plant. The medicine is found yet again, where it hurts. In fact, the most relief was found in patients who’s skin produced weals from the sting. 85% of patients said that the sting that Nettle gave them was an acceptable side-effect, and most said they preferred the stinging nettles to their usual pain relief. Not to mention that this remedy is far less harsh on our liver and kidneys as many other traditional forms of pain relief are (Tylenol, ibuprofen, etc).

So next time you forage for your dinner or medicine, consider the impact that hardship can have on the medicine in us, and in plants. Going deep into these places can reveal your most promising gifts.

Below are a few Harvesting Tips, Food Uses, and Medicinal Uses to help you navigate the green green waters of Stinging Nettle. One of my favourite spring foods, and one of my most cherished medicines.

There are hundreds of other uses for Nettle, but I am going to stick with the preparations I’ve stung myself for.

Image result for young stinging nettle

Harvesting

Nettle harvesting begins in the later parts of Spring. My favourite time! You tend to find Nettle in places that are nutrient dense, like old farms with massive manure piles.

Something I always keep in mind before harvesting is respect and honour. Ask the plant to share it’s gifts with you, and to share them with others in a good way. Listen to its response, and value its teachings. These are extremely sentient beings, and we have our health because of them. I feel it’s extremely important to do your research before harvesting, to understand how a plant reproduces, and also how you can help it grow better. And always be 110% certain before you forage that you have found the right plant. You are taking something, and what can you give back? How can that taking be giving? As foragers, it is our responsibility to act upon this question with great recognition.

Loads of people will say to you, oh you can harvest Nettle without gloves! You just have to know how to do it!

Well, I’m here to tell you, please don’t do that. Yes, there are times where I’ve harvested them without gloves, and when you grab them in a certain way (not too softly, and not too aggressively), it’s true they do not sting. But the slightest touch when you’re not paying attention will leave you STUNG all evening. Formic acid is released when you touch the little hairs on Nettle. The feeling is an interesting one, most of you will not enjoy this. I recommend wearing gloves, and pinching the tops off of the plant when you first begin to harvest. Come back every couple of weeks and keep doing the same thing. You will keep the plant in a vegetative state longer, ensuring more food for you, and you won’t devastate the plant so much that it can no longer live a healthy life.

Once the plant begins to form it’s seeds is when you STOP EATING IT. Be sure not to consume it because it can cause kidney infections.

Image result for nettle
 A nettle plant that has gone to seed.

                                           

Food Uses

Nettle is extremely nutrient dense, truly one of the best foods we can eat. Many wild foods tend to be so much higher in micro nutrients than our babied cultivated vegetables.

Nettle is high in calcium (2900 mg of calcium per 100 g of dried nettles!), magnesium, chlorophyll, iron, vitamins A, C, D, zinc, potassium, and a vast array of other nutrients. According to some sources like Samuel Thayer’s The Foragers Harvest they are higher in protein than any other known green vegetable. 

Not only is it incredibly gifted minerally, it actually tastes like spring. That craving you feel for greens after a long winter is 100% fulfilled by this plant. My teacher always said, “in anyway you can use spinach in cooking, you can use Nettle.” I prefer to make a spring time pesto out of it, or puree it in soups. Also by drying it and grinding it up, you can add it to many things including bread, smoothies, etc. Try drying it, grind it up and mix with coconut milk and vanilla for a matcha like beverage!

Here’s a great wild pesto recipe for pasta, bread, and more!

Spring Time Pesto

Image result for Pesto

1 cup of fresh Nettle leaves (firmly pressed down)
1 cup of Basil leaves (firmly pressed down)
1/3 cup of Wild Leek Leaves (firmly pressed down)
2-5 cloves of Garlic. Let your heart guide you on this one.
2/3 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
1 cup of nutritional yeast
Salt and pepper; season to taste

1) Put Nettle, Basil, Wild Leek leaves, Garlic, and olive oil in a food processor.
2) Blend until desired consistency; you may need to add more oil if it’s too thick.
3) Blend in Pine nuts.
4) Mix in nutritional yeast. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5) If you’re storing it, make sure there is an inch of oil covering the pesto mixture in the jar. This will keep the pesto from oxidizing.

Medicinal Uses

Now this is where I get REALLY excited.

Let’s always remember how intertwined our food and our medicine is…and Nettle is so good at dissolving that edge between the two.

Here’s a medicinal preparation you can make at home that can help absolve seasonal allergies. What is important to note is you collect the leaves off the Nettle plant before it has gone to seed. Furthermore, keep in mind that this tincture is not going to be effective after using it once. You must take it over a long period of time for it to truly alleviate allergy symptoms.

Every day, take a 1-3 teaspoons of this tincture. After three weeks take a couple days off without the tincture, and then continue on again taking it every day.  Go through cycles like this. When you take something everyday, it doesn’t elicit as strong of a response in your body over time. These little breaks of a couple days are essential for your body to keep working with the medicine of the plant effectively.

In my own life, I’ve seen many people who have experienced great relief from seasonal allergies because of Nettle. Not to mention its chlorphyll rich nature can help with other things like inflammation from arthritis, kidney irritations, and can be made into a tea infusion for anaemia.

Here’s how to make the tincture:

Nettle Tincture

Image result for homemade nettle tincture

Ingredients and Equipment

-one small jar
-alcohol (ideally a higher percentage alcohol, but 40% will do).
-plant material (fresh is best, but dried will also work)
-fine meshed cloth; I use old pillow cases that haven’t been washed with synthetic laundry detergents. Or use cheese cloth.

1) The ratio that works the best for fresh Nettle is 1:2. 1 part plant material, and 2 parts alcohol. The amount of plant material and alcohol will change depending on your size of the jar. If it is dried, do a ratio of 1:5.
2) Add in your plant material into the jar.
3) Add in your choice of alcohol.
4) Enclose and label jar.
5) Store in a dark place, and try to shake it everyday. This will help break the plant material down and release its medicinal compounds.
6) After 4-6 weeks, strain plant material out of alcohol. Add the remaining alcohol into a dropper bottle, and label. Notice how green the liquid has turned. Amazing!
7) Store in a dark place out of sunlight.

Other Uses

I make a nitrogen rich compost tea with Nettle. Simply poor water in a bucket with Nettle, and let it ferment for two weeks. Stir it if you can. Strain out plant material from liquid and apply via watering can or a backpack sprayer if you have one. It’ll give your plants a great boost.

Nettle is also extremely valued as a natural dye. It makes the most incredible vibrant green colour. I have the sweetest tye dye shirt made with it. It can also be used to make textiles, and paper! 

Image result for young stinging nettle

Giving Back; How to Grow

Nettle has very small seeds that can be cast in early spring when the ground in workable.  Lightly cover with soil. It loves nutrient rich soils such as manure and compost, so casting them in these areas will ensure they’re happy. Give them a gentle water, ideally a misting, until they germinate. This ensures the seeds aren’t disturbed. They’ll do great in part shade and full sun.

This is a wondrous plant. Don’t be offended by their stinging nature; if they didn’t have this to protect themselves, literally every being on this earth would be eating their nutrient rich contents. This plant is such a powerful vegetable available to us every single year due to it’s perennial nature.

Image result for stinging nettle seeds

Cautions

After Nettle has entered its flowering stage, the old leaves contain particles called cystoliths that can irritate the urinary tract if eaten. Avoid eating at this stage.

Never forage plants from the wild unless you are 110% sure you have a correct identification. This blog has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

References

  1. Gray, B.  & Canadian Circumpolar Institute. (2011). The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North. Whitehorse, YT: Aroma Borealis Press
  2. Thayer, S. (2006). The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants. Birchwood, WI: Foragers Harvest Press
  3. Peterson, L. (1977). Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Boston, New York. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  4. Mackinnon, Kershaw, Arnason, Owen, Karst, Hamersley, Chambers. (2014). Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada New Edition. Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine
  5. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/771563.stm

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