If you’ve ever gotten “stung” by a nettles plant, you’ve no doubt gained quite a respect for the lingering pain and possibly a fear for the plant. Hopefully I can show you the stinging nettle is probably one of the most important herbs available to us and if harvested correctly, you can avoid getting stung.
In Alaska we are abundantly blessed with Urtica dioica. There are over 500 species world wide. Spring is the best time to harvest the top 6-8” before they flower (summer solstice in Alaska). Note: ingesting flowered nettles have been known to cause stomach upset. It is highly recommended to wear gloves when harvesting nettles. Gather on a fine day in the morning when the sun has dried off any dew. Ask “permission” from the plant and respectfully thank it. Cut just above the root. The sting comes from under the leaves and the stems. The little hairs contain formic acid and histamine causing the intense reaction of a sting. If you should get stung just rub fresh nettles leaves together (with gloves) and rub over the area that is welted.
Once steamed, dried or cooked, the sting is lost but not its gifts of vitamins, proteins, calcium, magnesium and iron. It contains so much calcium that just one cup of nettles tea can provide you with 500mg of calcium! Nettles is just abundant with nutrition and is known to contain chlorophyll, betaine, choline, histamine, serotonin, lethicin, silica, quercetin, rutin, sterols, tannins, vitamins A, B2, C,D, K, folic acid, pantothenic acid, zinc and probable many more. It is considered an antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, expectorant, galactagogue(increases milk production in lactation), antihistamine, nutritive and tonic.
Reported health benefits and medicinal uses include…….but are not limited to:
Blood sugar stabilizer, enhances circulatory, immune, endocrine, nervous and urinary systems, reduces fatigue, reduces allergic and menopausal problems, eliminates chronic headaches, expels mucous during colds, nourishes the adrenal glands, breaks down uric acid crystals in joints (arthritis and gout), diuretic, relief of asthma, reverses anemia, itchy skin, kidney and bladder infections and stones, diarrhea, dandruff, re-hydrates vaginal dryness, blood purifier and detoxifier, hay fever, prostatitis (BHP), increases milk flow in nursing mothers, stops bleeding gums, reduces blood pressure, anti-inflammatory affect, helps inhibit joint and bone destruction, helps relieve pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, beneficial in pregnancy as the vitamin K guards against excessive bleeding, improves kidney function and helps prevent hemorrhoids, alkalizes cells, helps reduce menses flow, cleanses digestive tract and helps with stomach problems. Nettles is best known as a histamine blocker so it is widely used as an herbal “Benadryl” for allergies.
There are so many ways to prepare nettles for use. Steamed and eaten fresh. Infused in vinegar. Infused in oil made into salve or creams for eczema and insect bites. Poultices are great for gout and inflamed tissues and joints. Encapsulated for ease of ingesting large amounts when treating inflammatory medical problems like gout. Dried and added as seasoning or additives in cooked items like lasagna, breads, muffins, soups. Dried or fresh and made as a tea to drink or used on the hair and skin. Infusions (hot) or decoctions (cold). The Root extract is excellent for urinary tract infections or prostate problems. Juice cooked from the leaves can be used as rennet to curdle milk for cheese or cooled and fed to your plants.
Nettles is recognized in Chinese medicine, homeopathy and traditional herbal medicine around the world. The German army had uniforms made of 85% nettles fiber and 15% grass in 1915-1918. It took 40kg of nettles to make 1 shirt. France used the fibers to make paper. Rope was also made with nettles fibers in Scotland. Flax and hemp have similar fibers and thus since replaced it.
Make nettles your best friend. Give them respect and gratitude and they will give back to you 10 fold.
Information provided by All About Herbs in Wasilla 376-8327 and Palmer 745-8387