If you have ever found yourself tromping along a riverbank in a swimsuit or shorts, you may already be familiar with the shocking prick of the stinging nettle. Once stung, the initial shock gives way to a tingly, throbbing sensation that can last for hours, and for some, days. Although unpleasant to unknowingly graze past, this plant's powerful protective mechanism provides a panacea of supportive benefits.
As you may have guessed, stinging nettle is a plant that loves to grow by the waterside. Its thirsty roots heartily run along the riverbank making nettle familiar scenery in riparian ecosystems worldwide. When introduced to the garden and given plenty of water, you’ll be hacking this leggy, leafy weed with a machete as, by the end of summer, it will be growing over your head! But, it is still an herb worth tending (and containing) in your herbal garden plot for the many therapeutic and edible creations it can produce.
Producing dark green leaves with a serrated edge, nettle are packed with vitamins and nutrients, specifically iron and protein, making them a great spring and summertime herb to harvest for food. Bring the leaves in from the garden and blanch them for a nutrient-rich nettle pesto. Add some raw basil for a more traditional flavor, or wild onion, spearmint, and chickweed for a lovely wild edible flair. If you are observing a fasting protocol, then try this recipe without the nuts.
Dry a few pounds of leaves (you won't believe how much they shrink once dried) and crush them. Add them to a blend of dulse flakes, nutritional yeast, salt, sesame seeds and other seasonings for an herb sprinkle garnish.
Like other mineral rich herbs, you can infuse nettle leaf benefits into apple cider vinegar. The minerals from the fermented apple will bond with the minerals in the nettle, making a super vitamin-packed salad dressing. The traditional name for herbal infusions made with vinegar is an herbal vinegar or herbal acetum.
Each nettle leaf is covered with what looks to the eye like fine hairs. However, upon closer inspection, these fine hairs are in fact sharp hollow trichomes made of silica (more on that later) containing a chemical mixture of formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) and 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin).
Even the gentlest contact with these hairs can break the tip of the trichome, injecting this chemical cocktail just below the surface of the skin and causing localized pain, inflammation, redness, and itching (we’d love for you to share your personal encounters with nettle in the comments!). Interestingly, some herbalists would argue that if you ask politely to harvest the plant, it may not sting.
Any plant that can sting like a bee is bound to generate some buzz. Much like bee venom therapy (apitherapy), which is the use of bee stings for their health benefits, the practice of urtication spans back some 2000 years. Still practiced today to support circulation, healthy inflammatory response and even aid in calming nervous system discomforts, urtication involves beating oneself with nettle stalks. This author has tried it, and it is profound.*
Although there is not a ton of research linking nettle with high absorbable silica in the body, many traditional herbalists use nettle interchangeably with horsetail for supporting healthy hair, skin and nails. Try drinking nettle leaf tea or taking nettle tincture daily, and combine this with an herbal hair wash of infused nettle leaf and rosemary in apple cider vinegar.*
Nettle for Seasonal Support
When the sun returns in spring and the flowers and grasses all start to bloom, think nettle. Whether it is the high mineral and chlorophyll content that is fortifying the immune response, or the histamine in the sting, many traditional herbalists utilize nettle year-round to stave off seasonal discomforts. It seems that the best practice for those who experience the discomforts of the season is to introduce nettle tincture into your daily supplement routine in the months leading up to spring.*
Common Name: Stinging Nettle, Nettle
Scientific Binomial Name: Urtica dioica, Urtica urens
Plant Family: Urticaceae
Habitat & Cultivation: native to temperate zones worldwide, likes moist rich soil and shade, often found growing by streams and waterways.
Botanical Description: it has heart-shaped, finely toothed leaves tapering to a point, with green flowers in long, branched clusters springing from the axils of the leaves.
*FDA warning: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.