Anyone who loves green, growing things becomes enchanted in springtime. I love to go foraging during those first warm days, and, well, sometimes I become distracted. One particularly fine afternoon recently, a friend and I were blissfully picking violets near an old barn when my arm brushed against a nearby plant, and I felt a familiar tingle – an electricity – where we had touched. Nettle! How could I have missed her? Not one to be ignored, she quickly got my attention, and that of my friend as well.
Before I begin extolling her virtues, perhaps I should address her antisocial side. It’s unfortunate - nettle’s inhospitable demeanor belies her true nature as an incredibly generous herbal ally. Few plants provide such a rich resource to help nurture our wellness and nourish our bodies.
But stinging nettles can be challenging to encounter. The leaves, stem and roots are covered with minute “hairs” which trigger the release of formic acid (the same irritant present in ant bites) when you “rub them the wrong way.” Of course, this makes nettle very easy to identify. If you aren’t sure, simply brush your hand up into her foliage. She’ll let you know!
The tenderness rarely lasts long and can usually be remedied by chewing up some plantain or yellow dock and applying the macerated plant material to the affected site. If you’re bold, you can crush up some of the nettle itself, using gloves or a cloth. Crushing deactivates the sting and coaxes out her healing green juice which, when applied directly, actually soothes the irritation!
Of course, prevention is really the best option, so wearing gloves when engaging nettle is well advised. She can be approached bare handed, though, if you are careful to grasp her firmly, smoothing down the hairs away from the stalk at the center of the plant, rather than brushing the hairs the “wrong way,” against the leaves toward the central stem.
So why would you want to meddle with nettle? She is a veritable cornucopia of nutrients: calcium, magnesium, iron, B complex vitamins, C complex, vitamins A, D and K. She has protein, cobalt, trace minerals, potassium, zinc, copper and sulphur.
Nettles are especially rich in chlorophyll, which is only one molecule removed from hemoglobin, so they feed the blood. Add in nettle’s bounty of iron and it adds up to a fortifying tonic for anyone who is anemic or for pregnant, lactating, or menstruating women.
Nettle has also long been revered for its benefits to the kidneys and adrenals. The kidneys allow us to expel toxins and the adrenals help us to respond to stress (think adrenaline), so given the challenges of modern life, most folks can benefit profoundly from nettle’s medicinal properties. Additionally, she offers relief from seasonal allergies, strengthens the bones, hair and nails and nurtures the lungs, nervous, hormonal and immune systems – that covers a lot of ground.
One of the wonderful things about nettle is that her nutritional benefits are delivered in a very balanced form and are easily assimilated and absorbed into our systems. My own little boy has been downing nettle infusion since he was baby, and at age 6, he still loves a cup of nettle infusion with honey.
Nettle can be integrated into our lives in many ways, and with a bit of careful planning we can enjoy her year-round. If given the choice, I prefer barn nettle, since it is the more potent variety, but don’t pass on wood nettle if she is present. Gratefully accept what is offered.
Here are some of my favorite ways of receiving her gifts: At the bottom of the article by Corinna Wood