A little while ago I told you as part of my herbal medicine apprenticeship that I was to keep a record of at least 30 herbs and my experience working with them. I decided to blog about them as that as an easy way to document and share my work.
First up! Stinging Nettle. By this point I have a bit of experience working with stinging nettle both medicinal and plant spirit wise so it gets first entry.
Identifying and Harvesting Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is an upright plant with a hollow, square, ribbed stem. Its long stemmed, jagged, heart-shaped leaves are in opposing pairs. Its stalk and the underside of its leaves are covered in fine hairs containing formic acid that sting if you brush against them. However, drying, pulverizing or steaming the leaves will completely get rid of the sting. It likes sun and can usually be found growing near river or stream banks or on disturbed sites with moist, rich soil. It starts to pop up in early spring. Nettle is quick growing and can get quite tall, sometimes over 6 feet. A plant will have either female or male flowers. Its female flowers are minuscule and green hanging in paired strands from the leaf axils. Its upright male flowers are poised diagonally at the top of the stem. The best time to harvest is early to mid-spring before it flowers.
Always show respect for the plants. Be mindful. Acknowledge they are living beings that are sharing their medicine with you. Only harvest if it feels right and always give something in return, starting with your love and gratitude. Never be reckless by taking too much from one spot. When harvesting you have to avoid the stingers by wearing gloves or snipping with shears and using them as tongs to put them in your harvesting bag.
If you get stung, dab the area clean with cool water if you can. Try not to rub or scratch. Many plants nearby might help. Leaves from plantain, dock or sword fern (spore side down) can help relieve the sting. Jewelweed, commonly known as a poison ivy remedy, also works or nettle stings. Break the stem in half and gently apply the juice to the affected area. Always be 100% confident about your identification of plants. If you aren’t familiar with these or if they aren’t available, aloe or a baking soda and water paste should help.
The Benefits of Stinging Nettle
Nettle’s very nutritious. Its high minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, and manganese and A, C, D & B-Complex vitamins. It’s also rich in proteins and amino acids. The whole plant can be cooked like spinach. It is advisable to not harvest nettle for food while it’s in flower, since it contains cystoliths which can be irritating to the kidneys and urinary tract.
The vitamins and minerals in nettle make it a great energizing tonic that’s beneficial to the liver, blood and kidneys. Its sulfer and silica content is great for healthy hair and skin. Recipes abound for nettle hair rinses to encourage hair growth and shine. The iron content in nettle is great for counteracting anemia and fatigue. Nettles are anti-inflammatory and contain antihistamines making them an excellent allergy remedy. Its diuretic, and detoxifying action make it a good treatment for gout, arthritis and various skin disorders. Some people practice urtication, that is purposely stinging themselves with nettle to combat arthritis and joint pain. This works because the nettle sting dilates capillaries and stimulates the nerves and circulation. The use of urtication for healing purposes dates back some 2,000 years or more.
Nettle infusion can be used as a plant food, insecticide and compost activator due to its nitrogen content. The tall, fresh nettle stalks “bark” stripped of leaves and woody center can be separated into strips, dried and used to make a very strong cordage. This cordage can be used to make rope or fabric, stronger than cotton and more environmentally friendly. The leaves yield a beautiful gray-green dye, while dye from the roots is yellow. Textiles and dye for military uniforms were made from nettles during WWI &II.
Nettle’s safe to use while pregnant and in fact has many benefits to the pregnant and nursing woman. Pregnant women benefit from its nutrition, gentle diuretic and laxative effect, ability to increase mother’s milk and prevent and stop bleeding and hemorrhage. It’s also useful for regrowing hair after pregnancy. Susun Weed has an excellent article on herbs for pregnancy including nettle, here.
The Many Ways to Use Nettle
I use stinging nettle many ways. I make stinging nettle tincture using spring water and everclear in a ratio of 1:3. I take a droppersful a few times a day when I’m experiencing allergy symptoms, when I’m feeling sluggish, and when I want to experience its spiritual properties.
For me, nettle’s plant spirit properties manifested as a male energy. A calm, happy, laid back equanimity. The impression I got wasn’t passive, it was youthful, alert. I could sense sun and water along with this energy. I experienced this through meditation after taking nettle tincture.
I find that regular use of the tincture helps clear up my skin and complexion. I use the infusion as a facial steam and hair rinse. It makes my hair soft and shiny. I helped make stinging nettle pesto by pulverizing it and adding olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt. It’s delicious over pasta and as a dip for veggies. The internet abounds with nettle recipes, from simple steamed nettle, to quiches, ale, and even deserts like ice cream! I enjoy it both warm or iced drunk as tea or infusion. It has a grassy, slightly bitter taste. It pairs well with mint and honey.
I am just at the beginning of what I forsee a long, happy relationship with this amazing herb. If you’d like to know more the internet abounds with a wealth of information with recipes, tips and tricks for its use. I recommend my teacher, Becky Lerner at First Ways , “Wildman” Steve Brill, especially his book, Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so Wild Places), and Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise as places to start.