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The first time I met nettle (Urtica dioca), I was hiding out from a thunderstorm, under a bridge while on a rock-climbing trip. I didn’t realize my bare, shaky legs had been resting on nettle the entire time. Needless to say, my legs were uncomfortable for the rest of the trip. Years later when I learned nettle is used for medicine, I was in disbelief. The plant that I was avoiding ever since my first encounter, soon became a good friend.
If you’ve never had the pleasure, stinging nettle has tiny little hairs filled with formic acid all over the leaves and stem, causing a temporary inflammatory response of the skin when contacted. It is commonly found near streams, irrigation ditches and other moist areas. Considered safe for most people, traditionally nettle was eaten as a steamed spring green. Nettle was also used for the relief of arthritis and joint pain by brushing the plant over the afflicted areas, causing blood to flood the site.
Nettle (Urtica dioca) is used both as food and medicine and is a great source of the following:
The USDA considers stinging nettle one of the “richest sources of minerals among plant foods,” and it is used to assist with the following conditions:
There is quite a bit of research supporting the use of nettle in thyroid imbalances including both hyper and hypothyroidism. Stinging nettle can help regulate thyroid-related hormones by helping to decrease the amount of inflammation in the thyroid gland.
Stinging nettle is considered fairly drying, as it pulls water and other impurities out of the body. For those who run on the dry side, it is recommended to mix a moisturizing herb with nettle, such as hibiscus or cinnamon. Considered safe for pregnant and lactating women, nettle is commonly included in pre and post-natal herbal blends.
Because nettle can help to lower high blood pressure, it is recommended people with low blood pressure not drink more than 4 cups/day.
Stinging nettle is most easily grown from small starts. A few roots can be pulled from an established patch and replanted, similar to mints. If grown from seed, the seeds will likely need to be cold stratified.
When finding a home for nettle in your garden, consider planting in a place away from walkways and places where children play. The plant prefers a good amount of water and soil rich in organic matter. Recommended companion plants are fennel and sunflowers.
When harvesting leaves, consider wearing gloves. However, many herbalists recommend learning how to work with fresh nettle without hand protection to learn the plant’s message to “pay attention”. Similar to other mints, only take the top two-thirds of each stem, leaving behind a few leaves to encourage more growth. This is especially important while wildcrafting.
When working with nettle as a food, consider harvesting in the early spring when the plant is below 10 inches tall, as it is still tender at this point. The formic acid that stings, goes away as soon as the plant is exposed to heat or pressure. A leaf can be crumpled into a ball and rolled between the hands for about five seconds, then eaten raw.
When the plant is eaten, rather than steeped, more nutrients are obtained, however, infusions are still highly beneficial. When made into an herbal tea, nettle does not become bitter over time unlike many other herbs. The longer nettle is steeped, the more nutritious the tea becomes.
Here are five ideas to enjoy your harvest.