Sometimes Nature has an odd sense of humour. Take Stinging Nettle – Urtica urens here for example: at a glance she looks rather unassuming, even inconspicuous.
Now, take a closer look: see those fine hairs?
Well, if you’ve happened to brush past stinging nettle, you will know what I am talking about: those hairs sting as they come into contact with the skin – and not just a momentary prick but a lingering stinging and sometimes itchy and almost burning sensation. The leaves also have stinging hairs that inject chemicals into the skin when you accidentally touch or brush past them. These hairs often cause pain and can even cause skin inflammation in the affected area, which is commonly known as nettle rash.
That’s no laughing matter, I hear you say. Well, you are right but that same unassuming little green plant is also a formidable healer in her own right; right down to providing relief from the very pain she has inflicted. The problem is the solution. Thanks, Nature!
Nettle Description and Benefits
Botanical (Latin) Name: Urtica dioica
Common Name: Stinging Nettle
Parts Used: Leaves
Native Region: Found globally.
Botanical Description: A perennial that can grow anywhere from 2cm-15cm with leaves in opposite pairs which are ovate to lanceolate in shape with toothed edges. The leaves have hollow, stinging hairs which can cause an intense stinging/burning reaction when touched.
Uses: Allergies, spring tonic, pain relief, hair rinse and dandruff treatment (see recipes below)
Preparations: Tea to drink and water infusions for topical use, extract of juice, herbal oil infusion
Taste: Grassy taste, easily masked by other flavours
Nettle contains impressive amounts of vitamins and minerals. Some of these vitamins include A, C, D, E, and K.
Vitamin C improves the body’s absorption of iron, which aids in alleviating anemia and fatigue. This herb also contains a considerable amount of potassium; a mineral that reduces tension in your arteries and blood vessels, lowering your risk for heart attacks and strokes.Vitamins and minerals are digestable and can be extracted in water. Make a Nettle tea or juice the leaves and add to green juices and smoothies. You can even make Nettle soup. There are some great recipes on the internet – just do a search and see which ones tickle your fancy.
Nettle also contains amino acids and antioxidants, which help in fighting off free radicals. Amino acids and antioxidants can be extracted in oil and applied topically as part of your skin care routine.
You can also add the oil to a liquid soap base for dandruff treatment. The oil infusion can also be made into ointments to assist in healing skin irritations. (see instructions, further down.)
Here are a few more health benefits you can get from this herb:
• Helps detoxify the body. Nettle is a diuretic, which means that it helps in flushing out harmful chemicals and excess liquids from the body. Herbalists have prescribed the use of nettle in treating urinary tract infections as well, because of its ability to cleanse and dispel toxins. This herb has also been called a “spring tonic,” which is a substance intended to cleanse the body after winter.
• As an extract. The juice or extract of the nettle plant is used topically to alleviate rheumatic pain and promote wound healing. Fresh leaves of nettle can also be applied to arthritic joints to minimize the inflammation.
• Alleviates allergic reactions. While physical contact with the nettle leaf can cause allergic reactions, the ingestion of nettle tea is known to help dampen the body’s response to allergens by binding with the body’s histamine receptors. It can be used to aid in the prevention of rhinitis, or the inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose.
• Reduces arthritis pain. The antioxidant properties of the nettle plant have been observed to help minimize inflammation. It can be used topically to help relieve joint pain as well.
See the article below for making your own herbal oil infusions which you can use to make a Nettle oil for topical use:
Nettle in the Garden
In the garden, Nettle is a prolific opportunist; a weed if you will. She self-seeds easily, which means populations can quickly get out of hand if left unchecked.
Some gardeners say that weeds are a sign of soil health and some even go as far as saying Nettle can be beneficial to soil and other nearby plants:
Nettle is especially good at stimulating humus formation, but it can also increase the keeping power of vegetables and increase the volatile oil content of herbs growing near it. It’s been found to help plants growing in rows nearby to be more resistant to fungus and disease.
Make a Nettle Liquid Fertilizer
After you have weeded out unwanted Nettle, add it to a bucket of water and stir every other day for 2-3 weeks. Strain and put used Nettle on your compost pile and use the water to feed your plants.
How to Harvest and Handle Nettle Without the Sting
The best time to harvest Nettle leaves is after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day. Young leaves are favourable as they tend to get more bitter the closer they are to flowering. If you are foraging for Nettle make sure the area you are harvesting from is unpolluted and not sprayed for herbicides and pesticides.
Firstly, you can choose to wear gloves while harvesting. If you are feeling adventurous you can either aim for the very bottom of the stem and pull the young plants upwards. This seems to do the trick for me and on the odd occasion I do get stung I just reach for some bulbinella or yarrow or even plantain to make a quick poultice. It works!
You can also hold a top leaf between thumb and forefinger, aiming for the middle of the leaf, and cut the stem if you are just wanting the young top leaves.
Be brave but not overly confident. Have a little chat and let Nettle know you want to be friends. Hey, it may even help 😉
Once Nettle has wilted she loses most of her sting and when dried can be handled freely. You will want to use wilted or dry herbs an any of your herbal oil infusions outlined in the link above.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about Nettle and do let us know if you feel inspired to share your Nettle recipes with us.
Till Next Time,
Shireen and Kathy
Nettle Safety: Best to avoid during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. For those with diabetes and low blood pressure, stinging nettle might lower blood sugar and might lower blood pressure. It can increase urine flow, so check with your health provider if you have kidney problems.
Contraindications (Plant-Medication Combinations): Interacts with the following: Lithium and Warfarin; diabetes, high blood pressure and sedative medication.
Always, always speak to an experienced and trusted herbalist to work out your correct dosage when treating acute or reoccurring issues
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