Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
Stinging Nettle is a plant that you have probably seen before. Maybe you cursed it for giving you a prick while walking in the woods but I bet you never knew how useful this herb (not a weed) is. On the last season of The Changing Earth Podcast this plant became the topic of conversation many times. Cat Ellis mentioned it's arthritis preventing powers when I interviewed her about herbal arthritis remedies. Then again Abe Lloyd mentioned it as a plant that is readily available across most of the United States when I interviewed him about wild foraging in North America. Having been brought up multiple times, I felt it was time to give this plant a second look.
Stinging Nettle's History
Marie Miczak states in her book, Nature's Weeds, Native Medicine,that the native peoples of North America used to use this herb for many things. Stalks soothed skin rashes, women were given nettle tea to build back blood cells after blood loss due to menstruation or child birth, it also helped bolster milk supply, and poultices were applied to curb severe bleeding.
Stinging nettles history is not one based solely in North America, though. Penelope Ody states in her book, The Complete Medicinal Herbal, that Roman nettle (U. Pliulifera) was introduced to Britain because soldiers used to beat themselves with it to stay warm and combat arthritis.
Identifying The Plant
Stinging nettle is called stinging nettle because it will prick the heck out of you if you try to pick it. You must wear protective clothing when harvesting this plant!
The nettle plant can grow up to seven feet tall in favorable conditions. It has leaves that are spear or lanced shaped and grow opposite of one another on the stalk. The stems are covered with the cursed stinging hairs and you curse as you run into them or try to pick them. The young plants will emerge with a red hue and turn green as they near maturation.
For foraging, drying and storage tips visit: http://gnowfglins.com/2013/10/02/stinging-nettle-part-2-using-nettle-in-everyday-life/
Nettle is a power packed herb! It can be used as a spinach replacement in meals. Abe Lloyd indicated that once the plant has been blanched the stingers are rendered useless. The nettle is important because it has a protein component which can be highly valued when wild foraging but it is also packed with numerous other vitamins including: vitamin a, b, c, and high amounts of iron.
Their is no limit to the uses of nettle but for some great recipes to get your creative chef juices flowing you can visit: http://momprepares.com/7-ways-to-prepare-and-eat-nettles/
Lesley Bremness mentions in her book, The Complete Book of Herbs, that there are valuable additional uses of nettle beyond it's food and medicinal qualities. She mentions that you can make a nettle beer from the plant. Also that it makes a great greenish-yellow die for wool. Additionally the fibers can be used to make cloth and paper. In addition to these great uses Penelope Ody mentions that a rinse can be made from the roots that can be used as a hair conditioner to prevent dandruff and hair loss.Who knew how versatile and nutritious this plant was?
Penelope Ody indicates in her book that the leaves and stems (or aerial parts) of this plant are especially valued and should be harvested during flowering. An infusion* of these parts stimulate circulation, help curb the effects of arthritis, rheumatism, gout and eczema, and help nursing mothers bolster milk supply. A tincture* can be used for arthritic problems, skin problems, and heavy menstrual bleeding. A compress* can be applied to painful joints whether that is from arthritis, gout, sprains, tendinitis, etc. An ointment* made of nettle can be applied to hemorrhoids and a wash of nettle can be applied to burns, insect bites, and wounds to help with healing.
*Tincture - Process of steeping the dried or fresh herbs in a 25% mixture of alcohol and water. Can be stored for up to two years. *Infusion - Preparation similar to making traditional tea where the leaves or flowers are put to steep in boiled water. Should be made fresh for each dose. *Compress - a cloth soaked in infusion *Ointment - Melt 500g petroleum jelly or soft paraffin wax in a bowl over a pan of boiling water, stir in 60g of dried herbs and heat for about two hours or until herbs are crispy. Pour this mixture into a jelly bag or cheese cloth fastened snuggly with a string or elastic band to the rim of a jug. With rubber gloves on (mixture will be hot) squeeze it through the jelly bag into the jug. Quickly pour the strained mixture into clean glass storage jars. The mixture must still be hot to pour properly.
Attention Use At Your Own Risk
I am not medically trained in anyway. I am simply a student. I read and experiment with ancient herbal techniques. I am simply passing on the knowledge I have gained from studding many texts on the subject and I am in no way responsible for anything you do with this information.
For this article I used these resources the most: Bremness, Lesley. The Complete Book of Herbs. New York: Viking Studio, 1988. Print. Miczak, Marie. Nature's Weeds, Native Medicine: Native American Herbal Secrets. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Publ., 1999. Print. Ody, Penelope. The Complete Medicinal Herbal. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1993. Print.