Nettles are an herbaceous perennial in the Urticaceae family often found growing in vigorous dense clumps in woodlands, roadsides, any other areas where water tends to run off or collect. They have rhizomes and stolons, making them prone to taking over garden beds. The leaves are green and soft, grow opposite on another, have serrated margins and cordate (heart shaped) bases. The leaves and stems are covered with small, stinging hairs. When touched, the tips of these hairs come off and cause a sharp, stinging pain and raised rash. The sting can be neutralized with the leaves from the dock plant, which is often found growing alongside nettle patches. Nettles have small clusters of white flowers that hang from where the leaf petioles meet the stems. Nettles are found worldwide, but prefer moist high nutrient (phosphate and nitrogen) soil. They are also important food sources for multiple species of moths and butterflies. If you’re worried about the sting, freezing, drying, blanching, or heating the nettles disarms them. Remember to wear garden gloves when you are harvesting and storing them, however. Nettles also make great fertilizer, as they are high in nitrogen. Water your garden with a nettle infusion every so often, or add nettles to your compost to give your garden a boost. They also encourage beneficial insects to your garden and are indicators of nutritious soils.
Nettles are a diuretic, a tonic, digestive, astringent, and stimulate circulation. It’s best to harvest them in the spring, and they make a great post-winter tonic, strengthening and supporting all the systems in the body. They have also shown to be helpful in children with eczema, or individuals with nervous eczema, when combined with figwort and burdock. They have also shown to be helpful in treating hemorrhaging, such as nosebleeds and uterine hemorrhaging. Nettles, as a diuretic, strengthen and tone the urinary system and the kidneys, and are useful for bronchial congestion. Nettles are often used in shampoos to reduce dandruff.
Nettles have many uses; In Europe, a tea of nettles is a folk remedy for arthritis and inflammation of the joints. It is also one of the nine herbs in a pagan Anglo-Saxon charm for poisoning and infection, and is thought to help with breaking free of emotional stagnation and protection against negativity. They were also traditionally used for fiber for clothing. Nettles are also incredibly high in Vitamin A, C, protein, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium, making them a sorts of super food. The young leaves and shoots can be sautéed, steamed, added to pizzas, pastas, soups, dips, and just about anything you might throw spinach or any other greens into. I love adding them to pesto to add an earthier flavor and make a more nutrient dense meal. You can also prepare them as a tea alone, or blend them into your favorite tea blend – I really like an anti-anxiety combination of chamomile, lavender, peppermint, skullcap, nettles, oatstraw, and calendula. The earthiness of the nettles are balanced by the brightness of the peppermint and the lavender. This tea is great at night, and makes me feel at ease and recovered after a hard day. There are also many herbal beer recipes that call for nettles, giving you a boozier option for getting all your vitamins and minerals.
An 10-15 minute infusion of 1-3 teaspoons of dried herb, 3 times a day, or 1-4ml of tincture three times daily. The fresh herb can be eaten liberally as you’d eat servings of spinach.
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