Nettle (urtica dioica)

by Kelsey Barrett
This article originally appeared on
Herb Rally


“Nettles may be found by feeling for them in the darkest night”
— Nicholas Culpeper

 

overview

Etymology: Anglo-Saxon and also Dutch equivalent, Netel, is said to be derived from Noedl (a needle). Referencing either the plants sharp sting or to nettle’s long tradition of usage as a fiber.

Plant Family: Urticaceae

Habitat: Native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and western North America.

Ecological Interdependence: Nettle supports over 40 species of insects, including butterflies. The presence of stinging fibers on the nettle stalk act as a defence against many grazing animals, creating an ideal habitat for our beneficial insect friends, some of whom are pollinators.

Botany: Nettle is a common perennial herb to 8 feet found on moist forest edges, meadows and disturbed sites with rich soil. Hollow hairs on the leaves and stems inject folic acid into the skin. Both male and female flowers appear on a single plant.

Parts Used: All aerial parts, seeds, root

Collecting: Collect in early to late spring in areas with snow. Collect beginning in late Winter in temperate climates. Harvest with gloves or with your bare hand and a firm grip.

An English rhyme reads:

Tender-handed, stroke a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains.
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
nd it soft as silk remains.

Constituents: She’s a powerhouse! Vitamin A, C, E, F, K, P. Zinc, formic acid, magnesium, carbonic acid, iron, copper, selenium, boron, bromine, chlorine, chlorophyll, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, silica, iodine, chromium, silicon and sulfur. Calcium, 1 cup provides 32-42% of the amount you require daily. Vitamin B-complexes as well as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B-6 all of which are found in high levels and act as antioxidants.


Preparation

Herbalist Max Mulitz with 30 nettle lashes.

Fresh Leaf

  • ‘Urtication’, or flogging with Nettles, is an old remedy for chronic rheumatism and loss of muscular power.

Fresh Root

  • Use a 2-10 year old plant.

Dry

  • Tea. Use dry plant matter within one year.

Extract

  • Fresh extract — 1:2 x 75% ETOH or 100 grams of fresh herb x 2 = 200 mL of 75% alcohol menstruum. Tincture fresh young nettle right after picking to preserve the formic acid.
  • Dried extract — 1:5 x 50% ETOH or 100 grams of dry herb x 5 = 500 mL of 50% alcohol menstruum

Fermentation

  • Nettle Beer. Nettle beer made by cottagers was given to their elders as a remedy for gout related and rheumatic pains. It’s an Earthy tasting drink that preserves the spring, through the winter.
  • Butter (traditional Celtic preparation)
  • Salve base

Culinary Use

Nettle Pesto (author’s own recipe)

2 cups packed fresh nettle leaf and seed
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds
2/3 cup cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated raw goat cheddar cheese
Sea salt to taste

With kitchen gloves, de-stem the leaves and seeds from the nettle stalk. Grate cheese with a cheese grater or slice finely. Lightly toast the sunflower seeds in a frying pan. Combine the nettle, garlic bulbs, toasted sunflower seeds, salt, cheese, and oil and blend on high. Blend roughly 1 minute or until thoroughly smooth. Blending will begin to break down the nettle stinger, if using a high powered blender. Add pesto to a frying pan, bring to warm, and stir. Warming will completely break down nettle stinger and bring flavors together.

Herbal Actions: alterative, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, tonic, styptic, vulnerary, trophorestorative, rubefacient


Medicinal Use

Tissue State: As a nutritive spring tonic, nettle provides heating and drying actions on the body. As we humans slowly emerge from our winter hibernation we wisely eat this spring green to clear the cold damp tissue and fluid built up over the winter months.

Blood Building: Nettle is considered to be blood building. As an iron rich herb, supplementing iron contributes to creating the protein hemoglobin which is the protein molecule in red blood cells. Nettles have more iron than spinach, providing a vital plant base support for anemia.

Styptic: Traditionally midwives used nettle as an ally in staunching post-partum bleeding.  Using strong infusions of wild harvested nettle leaves has proven to reduce anticipated blood loss by as much as 90%.

Diuretic: In edema, or as the old texts like to call ‘dropsy’, nettle reigns supreme as a diuretic, flushing excess water through the urinary tract. Nettle also acts as mild astringent in the urinary tract, which  is strengthening to tissue.

Anti-inflammatory/histamine: Nettle works in two ways as anti-inflammatory. It provides an important and hard to find function of stabilizing mast cells which are the initial alarm bells for the body to mount an immune response.  In addition, it works with the digestion of proteins. Quite often allergic reactions come from ingested proteins interacting with the immune system, historically making an allergic response difficult to predict. Matthew Wood points to nettle’s ability to support the liver in its function to digest blood proteins which makes it an indispensable tonic for protein based allergies.

Vulnerary: Young nettles are rich with free amino acids. A large proportion of our cells, muscles and tissue are made up of amino acids, they give cells their structure. As an essential building block for tissue repair in the muscles, bones, and skin, amino acids are pulled from the young nettle when eaten raw or lightly steamed. A deeply nutritive herb for internal wound healing, in recovery from surgery or other body trauma.

Trophorestorative: The seed of nettle is literally food for the kidneys! The kidney is a delicate organ comprised of millions of small filtering agents, who have a huge responsibility to cleanse the blood of toxins. David Winston site dozens of cases where nettle seed will return a person’s kidney from extreme serious atrophy, disease, and even those on the edge of dialysis.

Hormone support: Nettle Root works to keep testosterone and estrogen active in the body for longer length of time. It works through blocking the bodies glycoprotein sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds to sex hormones making them inactive, and so when SHBG is blocked by nettle root, there is more free testosterone and free estrogen active. In menopause and andropause nettle root can be a great ally during this time of transition.

Nettle root also blocks the production of the sex hormone Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which is responsible for hair loss in both men and women, called androgenic alopecia.


Historical Use

Nettle was once widely used for its stem fibres which were cut, dried, steeped, and spun. The long fibers from stinging nettle can be spun into thread or yarn and woven into fabric that is said to be as strong as hemp, varying from coarse to as soft as cotton. Coarse nettle fiber may be use for sailcloth.

Many Native American tribes made cordage from the medicinal fiber.

In Denmark, burial shrouds made of nettle cloth have been found dating back 5000 years or more.

An Irish folk remedy suggest eating nettle soup three times in the month of May, beginning May 1st, which we know as the pagan spring time celebration of Beltane. This will cure rheumatism all year long.


Magical Use

Cicely Mary Barker, "Dead Nettle Fairy", 1920s

Nettle is commonly linked with Beltane for magical invocation. It is said if you are pricked with Nettle on Beltane, you have been stung by love. Children played games of chase with bundles of nettle, teasing one another with a love prick.

According to Hungarian lore, carry nettle leafs in your pocket and it will protect you from lightning in storms

In many traditions nettle ward off all kinds of evil spells, witchcraft, and sorcery. It’s physical stinger is a doctrine of signature to an definitive energetic stinger and boundary.

In Celtic lore nettle was a plant indicator of a faery patch or elf dwelling.

Energetic: Nettle acts like a old grandmother, whipping you into shape. Coming from love and nourishment, she gives organs, muscles, skin, blood and limbs the medicine they truly need. She doesn’t waste time, she gets right to the task at hand of cleaning house.


Contradictions

As a warming and drying agent, take care giving to people with hot and dry tissue state. Nettle increases urine flow. If the kidneys are damaged gently diurese with nettle leaf.

 
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