Stinging Nettle is a herb that many people are aware of even if natural medicines don’t interest them at all – it’s one of the easiest plants to identify simply because brushing against it with bare skin can result in an irritating rash! This is because the stems and the undersides of the leaves are covered with tiny needle-like hairs that contain formic acid which results in contact-dermatitis when they come into contact with the skin. It burns but the rash usually subsides quite quickly. This has led modern people to view stinging nettle as little more than an irritating nuisance that spreads rapidly and needs eliminating! The truth is that it’s a potent nutritive substance with an array of incredible health benefits.
If video presentations are more your cup of tea then you can learn all about the healing properties of stinging nettle right here:
Nettle is a tonic adaptogen and has a very long history of use in many indigenous herbal traditions throughout the world. It contains many important nutrients and is particularly high in iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, potassium and manganese, vitamins B1 and B2, and is rich in vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and D2.
It is a tonic for the liver, gallbladder, spleen, kidneys and lungs and is has expectorant and anti-asthmatic properties and is also a natural antihistamine. It strengthens the meridians and supports the circulation of subtle energy throughout the body, it’s great for building healthy blood and is commonly used in the treatment of diabetes and arthritis… and that’s not all…
Nettle is a member of the Urticacea family, although the Stinging Nettle species is Urtica dioica and is one of the most common and widespread species and is what people are referring to when they are discussing nettle as a food and medicine. It is easy to wild-harvest and cheap to buy organically grown and is well suited to pretty much everyone.
Nettle is an edge species, meaning that you will often find it growing on the edge of an ecosystem or that space where two ecosystems merge – for example the edge of a field against the hedgerow, or on the edge of a forest – it likes to draw upon the resources of more than one ecosystem or microclimate.
Organically grown nettles are obviously great, but if you want to be certain that it contains all of the nutrients and beneficial constituents that it should, wild harvesting it is your best option as the soil matrix will be more intact with a greater likelihood of retaining nutrients.
As we’ve already seen, nettle does contain some toxic components within it’s needle-like hairs, but these are completely broken down through either cooking or thorough drying. If you’re daring enough you can even eat them raw! (see video below). Cooking and drying/infusing is by far the best way to use nettle in large quantities though. If you’re going cook with fresh nettle it is best done in early spring when the nettles are still small, young and fresh. They become a lot tougher and more fibrous as they age and grow taller, and you shouldn’t harvest them once they start to blossom as the leaves become filled with cystoliths – calcium carbonate crystals that can cause calcification within the body – most commonly kidney stones.
Prior to nettle flowering however, the leaves are perfectly safe to harvest although it is best to only harvest the top two sets of leaves and leave everything below as the leaves tend to become tougher and less fresh below the top two/three sets of leaves – most of the new growth is occurring in the top two sets so that’s where the majority of nutritional value lies, plus by removing only the new growth we are harvesting it sustainably and allowing the plant to easily regenerate.
All parts of this plant can be harvested – the roots and the seeds both have potent medicinal applications but they are all very different from one another. Nettle root is an aromatase and a sex-hormone-binding-globulin inhibitor which is why it is commonly used in mens formulas to increase androgens like testosterone and for prostate health. The seeds are a great endocrine tonic and good for eliminating gastrointestinal parasites.
Aside from being eaten nettle can be prepared as a tea, tincture or be taken as a powder or in capsules. Personally I find the tea and tincture to be superior options as they have been thoroughly extracted beforehand, so they are generally more bioavailable and easy to absorb and utilise. Most often people make a very weak nettle tea that offers minimal benefits. Tea bags are one such option. If you want to receive the full spectrum of benefits that nettle has to offer, it’s best to make a a strong infusion from the loose, dried herb. If you want to know exactly how to do then watch this video:
Nettle is often used throughout springtime as a way of reducing seasonal allergy symptoms because the plant histamines in nettle can reduce the body’s own release of histamines and thus lower the allergic response and treat seasonal conditions like hay fever.
From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine nettle is considered a ‘jing’ herb, not only for its tonic effects on the kidneys and the adrenals and the fact that it is a general, overall restorative, but also because it is great for building bone density and improving the flexibility of joints. It is also excellent at nourishing the hair, skin and nails. Consuming nettle internally and bathing in the tea is a great way to treat all types of eczema too.
Nettle nourishes the mucous membrane of the intestinal tract and is commonly used as a natural treatment and preventative for haemorrhoids as it reduces the inflammation of blood vessels in the anal canal, and the infusion is great for reducing gastric ulcers too. All in all, it’s an outstanding tonic for overall digestive health when consumed regularly!
As an infusion it is readily absorbed by the fluids and soft tissues of the body so it can nourish our entire being very well, even down to toning capillaries. It is also said to nourish our subtle anatomy too – healing and strengthening the various channels that act as a conduit for our qi or vital energy.
This is an excellent herb to take throughout pregnancy and post-partum as it stimulates the production and flow of breast milk and its astringent/diuretic nature reduces water retention, and because it is so rich in minerals like potassium it can offset many deficiencies that are commonly associated with synthetic diuretics, making it a very safe option.
Nettle also has anti-purine properties due to its diuretic ability to excrete uric acid from the body, which make it especially good for gout. It’s anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing benefits make it great for rheumatoid arthritis as well.
In the wild nettle likes to grow near to a natural water source – they can often be found near streams or on river banks. This water energy is something that it carries into our bodies and uses to heal the organs most closely associated with the water element, making it an amazing tonic for the kidneys and urinary bladder. It is an amazing natural remedy for chronic urinary tract infections, cystitis and even kidney stones – though remember that post-flowering nettles can actually contribute towards kidney stone formation, so NEVER harvest nettles for food/medicine after they have flowered!
Nettle really has so many important health benefits and is readily available in the wild in many countries spanning multiple continents. It’s one of those ‘special’ herbs that should be a staple in every household, and if you have nettle growing wild in your local ecosystem, call upon it as a herbal ally, approach it mindfully and it will repay you with supreme nourishment and vibrant health!
As mentioned above, it is possible to eat raw stinging nettles although you must be very careful if you decide to try it! For instructions on how to do this as safely as possible, watch this: