Some know them as a garden nuisance, but the flowering plants known as stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) have been used medicinally for centuries.
Nettles are known to treat: allergies, anemia, arthritis, bronchitis, burns and scalds, dandruff, fatigue, gingivitis, hair loss, internal bleeding, kidney stones, parasites, poor circulation, pre-menstrual syndrome, skin complaints, urinary tract infections, and more.
These gentle herbs assist the body with cleaning out metabolic waste. They are also full of vitamins (B1, B2, C & K), amino acids, minerals and chlorophyll, and are rich in natural antihistamines and high in iron. Nettles make a wonderful spring tonic for detoxifying sluggish and cranky livers.
Legend has it that soldiers during the First World War used to sting themselves with nettles to bring feeling back to their frozen hands and toes. The plants have been used topically to treat arthritis, as well.
Beyond their healing powers, nettles are delicious steamed, fried in butter, added to soups, or brewed as a simple infusion (tea) by pouring boiling water over them and steeping them for as little as 15 minutes or as long as overnight.
A clever way to enjoy the health benefit of nettles is to make Infused Vinegar. You will need:
organic apple cider vinegar
a handful of nettles
a mason jar
Stuff the mason jar full of nettles, then pour the vinegar over to completely cover. Let the concoction sit in a dark place for a few weeks and wait patiently.
The vinegar will extract the medicinal and nutritional constituents of the nettles, and the result is a delicious vinegar to add to salad dressings, enjoy diluted in water, or for those more adventurous, to use as a hair rinse to add vibrancy to weak, distressed, dull hair and to prevent hair loss, too.
Want to meddle with nettle in your diet? At a recent yoga workshop with a weed-themed menu, this recipe for Nettle Paté (based on one by Rosemary Gladstar, a pioneer in the herbal movement) warranted rave reviews. You will need:
1 giant bowl of fresh stinging nettles
1 cup of walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds or nut of your choice (preferably soaked overnight)
1 small onion, a handful of chopped green onions, or a handful of chives
3-5 cloves of garlic (depending on your garlic tolerance)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp light miso (find it at Asian specialty stores)
1 tbsp red wine or balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Steam the nettles until they become bright green (about five minutes or so). Strain and squeeze all the water out of them. (If you are feeling daring, try drinking the water afterwards. It’s delicious!) If using nuts, chop them up or pulse them in a food processor beforehand and reserve for later use.
Combine the following ingredients in a food processor: nettles, onion, avocado, garlic, spices, lemon juice, miso, vinegar. Blend until you have one good-looking green paste.
Take a small bowl, line the bottom and sides with your crushed nuts/seeds, then spoon your nettle mixture in (it should be thick) and press down.
Cover the bowl with a plate, invert and flip the pate out. Voila, nettle paté! Serve with crackers, chips or crunchy veggies.
For those with achy or arthritic joints, nettle is the solution. Try this Nettle Beer as a delicious way to relieve pain. You will need:
2 cups sugar (preferably raw)
2 tbsp. cream of tarter
5 quarts of water
about 2 pounds nettle tops
1 ounce live yeast
Place the sugar, lemon peel (no white), lemon juice, and cream of tartar in a large crock. Cook nettles in water for 15 minutes. Strain into crock and stir well. When this cools to body temperature, dissolve yeast in a little water and add to your crock. Cover with a cloth folded several times. Let it brew for three days, then strain out sediment and bottle. It will be ready to drink in eight days.
Lisa Burgschmidt is a drifter, photographer, writer and cooking enthusiast with an interest in wildcrafting and herbalism. She currently resides on the north mountain in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, growing medicinal herbs and vegetables.