nettle

Nettle, dear nettle

The power to live fully comes from whole, vibrant and nutrients dense food. One of my favorite food are herbs, and one of my favorite herbal allies is nettle (urtica dioica). Yes, indeed, this is the stinging nettle you know. The name “urtica” says it all – it comes from Latin meaning “I burn”.

Nettles grow like weeds throughout much of the world. They are very common both in north and middle Europe, growing in wild, abandoned places, close to old houses or compost piles. You can find them around swamps or waterways, off-beaten paths and in open areas of woodlands.

You can harvest them yourself in May and June and dry for your own use. Obviously you will need cotton gloves and long pants to spare yourself the stings. Once you collect your herbs, please carry them in a cotton bag and dry them in an airy room or a shed without a direct exposure to sunlight.

Energy packed drink

The dried nettles make a fantastic nourishing infusion. Such a drink offers more energy than coffee or other stimulants.

Who are the ones to benefit?

In fact, everybody, but especially all people on the-go. These are: sleep-deprived mothers, fast-paced businessmen, hard-working researchers, depressed or physically weak, reconvalescents, anxious kids or nervous teenagers. Wise people of all ages will love the nettle to nourish them, replenish their energy and calm the nerves.

Nettle leaves contain many active compounds. These are chlorophyll A and B, organic acids (such as glycolic acid, glyceric acid, formic acid, butyric acid, acetic acid  and silicic acid), flavonoids, tannins, carotenoids, phytosterols, xanthophyll, amine compounds (such as histamine , acetylcholine and serotonin) and various enzymes and plant hormones. The roots contain mostly organic acids, lecithin, waxes and mineral salts.

Urtica is truly rich in minerals and vitamins and in high amounts: the blood-building iron, restorative and bone mending calcium, anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, anti-diabetes chromium, or vision-aiding vitamin A, blood clotting vitamin K, and overall supportive vitamins B (B1, B2, B3, B5), immune-boosting vitamin C and antioxidant vitamin E. There is also manganese, silicon, phosphorous and some others.

The benefits of nettles

Urtica is mainly a medicinal plant which “cleans the blood”, or in other words, facilitates the body’s removal of all kinds harmful products of metabolism. But thanks to the high content of trace elements and vitamins it helps to streamline all metabolic processes. Nettle also increases blood levels of hemoglobin and red blood cell count, so they are of great help for anemics.

Nettle infusions prevent minor bleeding from capillaries in the gastrointestinal tract. This valuable herb stimulates the secretion of gastric juice and it is slightly bile-production enhancer. It also facilitates the assimilation of foods and lowers blood sugar levels. It inhibits inflammation in the urinary tract and gastrointestinal tract. It stimulates the immune system, increasing resistance to infection.

The preparations of the nettle leaves applied externally treat eczema, acne, or dermatitis. They strengthen the hair roots and nourish the skin. They activate the regeneration of the skin and accelerate wound healing.

In short, nettles are a powerhouse of nature. Just by inspecting the ingredients, you will find out that nettles are a great tonic to nearly all conditions. Moreover, they are safe to take for an extended periods of times. Daily.

The action of the nettle leaves is:
– diuretic (stimulate urination specifically aiding the elimination of uric acid)
– decongestant 
– anti-haemorrhagic (inhibit internal and external bleeding)
– stimulating blood circulation (warm the body up)
– hypoglycemic (lower blood sugar)
– anti-arteriosclerotic (stop the hardening of the arterial walls)
– detoxification
– hampering the creation of bladder stones
– regulating metabolism
– stimulating regeneration processes
– hematopoietic (increase the number of red blood cells and hemoglobin in the blood)
– lymphagogue (stimulate activity of the lymph system)
– tonic (nourish and tone the tissues, specifically those of the urinary system)

Indications:

– physical weakness
– lack of energy
– mental health
– metabolic disorders  
– swelling after exercise or as a result of hypertension
– urinary tract inflammation  
– tendency to hemorrhage
– circulatory disorders (cold hands and feet)
– anemia  
– chronic skin diseases
– chronic wounds  
– pancreatic disease  
– rheumatic diseases
– poisoning and detoxifying treatments
– weak immunity 
– diabetes
– eczema
– atherosclerosis
– thyroid problems (as suggested by the herbalist Mathew Wood)
– pregnancy tonic
– inducing lactation in nursing mothers
– slow growth of nails and hair 

 Are you somewhere on the list above? Choose the nettle to support you. Their cumulative effect builds over time.

Tea vs infusion

Forget the nettle teas – they are too weak to count for your health. The nettles used in the teas are often of too low quality and too much powdered. In such a form they have gone through too much heat and processing that removed much of their nutritional profile. Harvest your own nettles or buy them dried in bulk from respectful herbal shops.  Make your own infusions.  

The difference between a tea and infusion lies in the quality and quantity of herbs as well as the steeping time.

A tea is often steeped from low quality, nearly powdered herbs, for a short time, e.g. 5-10min. An herbal infusion offers a nutrients-dense drink. It is steeped (while covered) for at least 4h and often 6-8h. The time is necessary to extract the active compounds into the liquid. The lid is necessary to prevent the volatile ingredients from escaping. You need high quality herbs and in a relatively big amount. 

Nettle infusion

nettle_infusion5-6 table spoons of dried nettle leaves (or more for medicinal use, up to 30g)
1 liter boiling water

Put the dried nettles into a jar (I use kilner jars for all my herbs, but any jar capable of handling boiling water will do). Add the boiling water and cover the jar with lid. Steep it for 4-6h or overnight. Strain out the infusion and drink it during a day. It will not stay fresh for another day unless you store it in a fridge (where it may stay for one day). Some herbalist suggest to simmer the herbs for 5min first. I am not sure it is necessary.

The infusion is very dark in color, nearly black. It can perfectly help you start the day instead of coffee.

Note: If this is your first time to start on herbal infusions, start slowly. Use one or two table spoons first (per 1 liter) and slowly increase the amount of nettle over the following 7-10 days. Observe yourself. For the best benefits, drink it daily for at least 30 days.

Use smaller amounts of herbs for kids.  A rule of thumb would be to use 1/4 of the adult dose for kids age 3-7 (and 1/6-1/8 dose for smaller kids), 1/2 dose for kids below 15. Remember to start gently as kids respond faster to herbs than adults.

Nettle in the kitchen

Nettle work especially great in spring and are especially recommended for people over 40. The best is to make a juice from nettles. You need to drink it 2-3 times daily for two weeks, a spoonful of juice squeezed from a young nettle leaves. Nettles can be passed through a meat grinder or blender andsqueezed through cheesecloth, or by a slow masticating juicer (such as a fantastic Omega VRT350 Heavy Duty Juicer in the USA or Hurom in Europe), and the resulting juice stored in a jar in the refrigerator for a few days without preservatives.

There is also a fresh stinging nettle juice offered commercially by the German company Salus (Floradix). It can be bought here or there. Salus offers high quality juices from fresh plants. I have used a number of their products with good to great results.

You can eat a salad of finely chopped nettles, adding to it olive oil and salt. You can also use nettles in any meal or soup where spinach is called for. Heat and drying removes the stinging action and cooking for 10min will do so too.

In summary

Nettle seems rough and stinging, but this Lady is such a loving soul beneath. It is a true ally.

If there is one herb ever you would consider drinking and eating, choose this one! 

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This post is linked to Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival.

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Photo courtesy wwarby available under Creative Commons on Flickr.

References: 

If you want to learn more about nettle the herbal books below are great: 

 
“The main medicinal uses of nettles historically were internally as a tonic and highly nutrient food, and treatment of the following conditions – anemia, rheumatism and arthritis, eczema and asthma, urinary ‘gravel’ and stomach complaints, skin infections, and as an ‘anti-haemorrhagic’. 
Nettles have also been traditionally used externally as a hair tonic/shampoo, locally applied styptic for nosebleeds and haemorrhoids, and stinging treatment (urtication) for arthritis and rheumatism.”
 
Polish references:
  • Rosliny lecznicze stosowane u dzieci, prof Waleria Olechowicz-Stepien, prof. Eliza Lamer-Zarawska
  • Ziola czynia cuda, Andrzej Skarzyński

Other health-related posts

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