To many, nettle is a pest, a weed. And it actually does need to be handled carefully or it will sting, true to the name. But it is also a wonderful herb. And cheap–you might have some in your back yard!
Stinging nettle is a perennial, 3 to 7 ft tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow as are the roots. The soft green leaves are 1 to 6″ long and have a strongly serrated margin. It bears numerous small greenish or brownish flowers. The leaves and stems are very hairy with stinging and nonstinging hairs, whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that will inject several chemicals: acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes, and possibly formic acid. This mixture of chemical compounds cause a painful sting or paresthesia from which the species derives its common name.
The plant has a high iron and chlorophyll content. Stinging nettle is also a very good source of the minerals calcium, magnesium, silicon, sulphur, copper, chromium, zinc, cobalt, potassium and phosphorus as well as containing high amounts of vitamins A, C, D, E, and K as well as riboflavin and thiamine.
Uses. Also called urtica diorica, stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), for urinary tract infections, for hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or in compresses or creams for joint pain, sprains and strains, tendonitis, and insect bites. It is also said to boost your metabolism and help fight autoimmune disease.
Allergies. I take it in tea form and I use it from a local source. I understand that is important if you have allergies, as I do, to treat them with local herbs so that you’re working with the same environment. You’ll find nettle in the tea area of Willy Street Coop and it’s also available at Community Pharmacy. I drink it as a tea, twice a day, and it helps my allergies (seasonal) immensely.
Harvesting. Wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves, because nettle does sting. Use a good sharp pair of scissors to make a quick and clean cut and be sure to hold the plant by the leaf and in the middle.
- A helpful video of havesting nettle.
Eating Nettle. Stinging nettles grow for much of the year, but are best eaten during the spring when they’re young and tender. To this end, be sure to avoid nettles that feel tough or have already flowered, as these are definite signs that the plant is more mature. After you’ve found the nettles you want to pick, just snap off the top few layers of leaves–which are the tastiest and most tender. Use them anyway you’d use spinach (except raw)–they taste better and have more nutrition. Cooking neutralizes the sting of nettles.
Here are some specific ways to prepare and use nettle:
Get out there and get it while it’s young!