Bird songs fill the cool refreshing English air in Dovedale National Park. I have hiked up off the trail around a tall bold spire polka-dotted with lichens of orange, white, green, and yellow. The cold clear creek far below is trickling over the slippery moss covered rocks, touched by toes of those travelers hiking and exploring like me. And yes, I brought my chrome book technology into the world of moss. During my trip in Derbyshire, England, I have been pleasantly greeted by multiple medicinal plants. Nettles especially in high populations, which appear as thick carpets along the forest floor, also keep the country roadsides in good company. Other plants that I have seen in abundance are dock, St. John’s Wort, cleavers, mullein, and elderberry and linden trees. It is absolutely beautiful, and certainly a delight for bike riders, travelers, and herbalists alike.
Urtica dioica, Stinging Nettle, is a tall growing plant, a bit spindly climbing from 3 to 7 feet tall, and appears upon closer examination quite uninviting. It’s tiny little stinging hairs line not only the leaves, but the entire stem as well. Upon brushing against a stinging nettle, within several seconds an abrupt stinging sensation comes about, almost paralytic/numbing pain feeling, which one may be inclined to itch as the welt rash appears. Luckily, dock plants, an antidote to the sting, tend to grow within close proximity of nettles. Three times in the past 2 weeks I have had success taking a young juicy dock leaf, tearing it into smaller bits and rubbing the juices and leaf directly onto the area stung by the nettles. In a short matter of time, the pain decreases and the rash begins to quell. Applying it a few times is helpful if the stinging sensation returns. It is still unclear if and how exactly dock in fact helps with a nettle sting. Some of the toxins released by the nettle’s stinging needle-like structures are neurotoxins that cause the pain and nerve reaction (check out the BBC reference below).
Stinging nettles, aside from their not-so-charming sting should one encounter a plant without realizing it, have a wide range of uses. The ancient Romans cultivated fields of them. The young plant tops can be steamed and made into soups or a delectable pine-nut pesto. Pick the plant with gloves, and steam the leaves to get ride of the tiny stinging hairs. The leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals, particularly high in iron and calcium. A long overnight infusion of the dried leaves or steamed leaves for over 8 hours will extract the greatest amounts of nutrients. I personally enjoy making a quart jar at a time, popping it into the fridge and drinking this nutritious tea throughout the week.
Nettles are excellent for osteoporosis, arthritis, anemia, PMS, bronchial congestion or as a nutrient supplement and for adrenal support, and is usually taken either as a tea or in the tincture extract form. The seeds are extremely high in omega-3 and protein, and can be powdered and added to oatmeal, used for protein shakes, and for people who need to balance their omega-6 and omega-3 oil ratio (aka…if you eat a high amount of meats which are abundant in omega-6, make sure you balance the oils with omega-3). The ideal ratio of omega-6:omega-3 should be 4:1. Stinging Nettles can also be used freshly against the skin for rheumatoid arthritis or painful joints in order to increase circulation to the area. While I do not fancy this idea, it has been used for centuries and is still practiced today.
A delicious and nutritious recipe to try is “Nettle and Friends” as I learned during my advanced herbal apprenticeship with Ryn and Katja at the Commonwealth Center for Herbal Medicine. Katja says: “I like to make up a very strong infusion (about an inch of dried tea in the bottom of a mason jar, then add boiling water), letting it steep for 4-8 hours. Often I will make it before I go to bed, then have it ready to drink for the next day. Letting it steep long like that drastically increases its mineral value: a 10- or 15-minute steep gets you 5mg of calcium per cup, but steeping it for 8 hours gets you 500mg per cup!” May you be nourished by the nettles!
Here is the recipe:
2 parts Nettle Leaf
1 part Dandelion Leaf
1 part Red Clover Blossoms
1/4 part Licorice root
A Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs by Rosemary Gladstar
Discovering Herbs: A Shire Book by Kay N. Sanecki. CIT Printing Service Ltd, Great Britain: (2004).
Susan Weed….any of her books. She is a major stinging nettle advocate and amazing herbalist!
Commonwealth Center for Herbal Medicine
BBC Special on Nettle Stings (video may not be working, but it’s worth a try – amazing video!!)