Nettle (Urtica dioica, U. urens) is a member of the Urticaceae (Nettle) Family. The name “Nettles” is said to be derived from the Anglo Saxon word “noedl,” meaning “needle,” which may refer to nettle’s use as a fiber/textile plant or to its sharp prickles. Other sources believe that “nettles” is from the Latin nassa, meaning “net” as its strong stems were woven into fishing nets, or that Urtica is from the Latin meaning “I burn.” The species name dioica means “two dwellings” in reference to nettles having either male or female flowers on different plants.
Milarepa, the Tibetan yogi is said to have existed upon nettles for years and his skin took on a greenish hue. He eventually developed legendary physical and psychic abilities. During the nineteenth century, nettles were recommended for people that are “constitutionally weak.” Rudolph Steiner called nettle the “Heart of the World” because it radiates healing energy to the people and plants around it.
Nettles improve the body’s resistance to pollens, molds and environmental pollutants. Nettles stabilize the mast cell walls, which stops the cycle of mucus membrane hyperactivity. Nettle leaves and roots tone and firm tissue, muscles, arteries and skin. It decreases uric acid buildup when taken internally and increases circulation to the skin’s surface. It nourishes and tones the veins, improves their elasticity, and reduces inflammation. Since nettles are energizing they help in the motivation to stay on a healthy diet.
Getting stung by fresh nettle, a process called urtication, is helpful in treatment for arthritis, cold feet, gout, lumbago, muscular weakness, multiple sclerosis, neuritis, palsy, paralysis, rheumatism, sciatica and chronic tendonitis. Direct the sting to the area needed. It greatly increases a rush of blood to the contacted area, producing a counter-irritation and thereby reduces inflammation and gives temporary pain relief. Some people keep a few nettles in pots as houseplants so that they can enjoy arthritis relief even in the winter.
Nettles were once cultivated in Europe to make sailcloth, fishing nets, lace, canvas and fine linen. Nettle as a dye plant produces a variety of colors. In Siberia, nettle has been used to make paper. In Egypt, the seeds were once pressed for their oil content.
Use nettle tea to water other plants in the garden to stimulate their growth and make them more resistant to bugs. Plants growing close to nettles tend to be stronger in their volatile oils. When added to the compost pile, it hastens its breakdown.
Animals fed nettles produce more milk and chickens more eggs. Chopped dried nettles give a gloss to both feather and fur and a sparkle of health to the eyes of animals that eat them.
Nettles lose their sting if pureed, dried or cooked. Nettles surpass spinach in nutritional content yet can be substituted for any recipe using cooked spinach, as well as beet greens, chard or turnip greens. Young tender shoots are edible cooked as a potherb, steamed, in soups. Pink underground stems are edible. Nettle beer, wine and vinegar are wonderful. Drink fresh nettle juice. The juice was once used to curdle milk. Nettle tea has a strong pleasant flavor that tastes mineral rich. Hang a bunch of nettles in the kitchen to deter flies. The dried leaves can be sprinkled on salads, soups and vegetables for their mineral rich salty flavor.
Nettles are slightly bitter, salty, cool and dry. It contains protein, beta-carotene and xanthophylls, vitamins B, C, E K, flavonoids (quercitin, rutin, kaempferol, rhamnetin), calcium, chromium, iron, silica, formic acid (which causes stinging), betaine, mucilage, tannin, chromium, silica, chlorophyll, albuminoids, agglutinin, amines (histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, 5-hydroxy- aliphatic acid), hydroxycoumarins, mucilage, saponins (lignin and sitosterol), glycosides, and tannin.
Nettle, a Eurasian native, is common in waste places, gardens, grassland, moist woods and along roadsides. They can grow to a height of three to ten feet. Nettles are a perennial herb with erect stems that are somewhat branched. The coarsely toothed, veined opposite leaves are heart shaped at the base, deeply serrated, darker on the top than underneath and covered with thousands of stiff stinging hairs. The leaf tips are pointed. Tiny green nettle flowers are minute and inconspicuous.
All fifty species of Urtica can be used in the same way, but stick with North American or European species unless you have consulted with local herb authorities on the safety of their local varieties. Touching the fresh plant can cause a burning rash. Wearing gloves when collecting can help prevent this, but hairs in large plants may still pierce through. A nettle sting can be soothed with a poultice of yellow dock, plantain or nettle juice. Avoid eating the raw plant (unless totally pureed, juiced or dried) unless it is very young and you are very brave. Eating raw unprocessed nettles can cause digestive disturbances, mouth and lip irritation and cause urinary problems. When used appropriately nettles are considered safe, even over an extended period of time. Only the young tops should be used, as older plants can be irritating to the kidneys and may cause digestive disturbances.
Rather can considering weeds an enemy to be sprayed, learn to use them to enrich your health and protect the planet!