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Stinging nettles: an ancient cure

(Photo Credit: Lisa Burgschmidt)

(Photo Credit: Lisa Burgschmidt)

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 avocado
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 lemons
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.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Sara says:

    Thank you so much for doing a story on nettles. It is such a wonderful plant with powerful healing abilities and is so loaded with vitamins and minerals that you could easily replace store bought commercial synthetic multivitamin brands with a daily cup of the infused tea that you provide the recipe above. Additional information on traditional uses, the latest research by the National Institute of Health can be found at http://www.nettlesforhealth.com.

  2. Cyra says:

    I’ve been buying the Whole Foods nettle extract to combat my seasonal allergies (it really works!) but I can’t wait to try some of these recipies instead! First on my list to try: Nettle beer!

  3. Praveen Sawh says:

    I suffer from sleep apnea and have recently been getting good results from herbal remedies. This is the next thing I am going to try. I am waiting for an order of Nettle Cider Vinegar. Hope it helps my night allergies and breathing!

  4. HereFishyFishy says:

    We have a bunch of nettle growing out near the barn. Is there a specific type of nettle, or can we use those? What parts of the plant are used? Just leaves? stems/leaves? or flowers, too?

  5. Lisa Burgschmidt says:

    Yes, you can definitely use the nettles growing out by your barn. Spring nettles are the tastiest, as they are tender and juicy. As soon as they are about four or five inches tall, you can trim the whole plant with scissors. As they grow taller, the stems get tougher and stringier, so just use the tops. If you are making tea, you can also use the whole plant. Once the nettles go to seed, they are fairly tough, though I recently heard of some people using the seeds to sprinkle on foods, though collecting them would be a fairly time consuming process. Hope you enjoy your nettles. . .

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