Stinging nettle; the name itself carries an ominous warning to those who might come in contact with it. However stinging nettle is actually quite beneficial when properly handled and prepared. It’s beneficial as a whole-body detoxifier, an immune booster, to improve circulation and so much more. The key to unlock these benefits lies in proper identification, harvesting, and handling.
Urtica Dioica is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant which is found across the globe. There are six subspecies, of which five are the stinging kind. The stinging variety are covered with tiny trichomes on their leaves and stems, which act like tiny hypodermic needles; small enough to penetrate the skin and inject a cocktail of chemicals which cause a stinging sensation. The plants are found wild and in cultivation. The range in size from 2′ to 7′ tall and have dark green opposite leaves which can be up to 6 inches in length. The stems are stiff and wire-like and the leaves serrated and hairy looking. When in bloom, they have numerous small, whitish-greenish or brownish flowers.
Health Benefits and Use
Stinging nettle has been used for centuries throughout the world. It’s known as common nettle, burning nettle, devils leaf, big string nettle, burn weed, and many more. It has been used for natural medicine, as a food additive, and as a source of dietary fiber. The plant contains a wide range of nutrients including Vitamins K, B1, B5, C, E, D, and A , calcium, iron, many trace minerals and beta carotene.
What it’s most known for is a rather lengthy list and includes whole body detox and cleansing, treating symptoms of enlarged prostate in men by preventing further prostate growth, and many of the symptoms associated with gastrointestinal disorders. It’s known to lower blood pressure which helps relieve pressure on the heart and cardiovascular system. It’s another herb favored by females as it reduces pain associated with childbirth and acts as a foil against excessive bleeding due to natural coagulant properties. Additionally it helps to stimulate breast milk production.
Stinging nettles contain boron, a mineral known to help slow the effects of osteoporosis and improved overall bone health. It also can be used to help regulate pain during menstruation by calming cramping and minimizing bleeding due to its astringent capabilities. Stinging nettle also has nephridic qualities, meaning it breaks down kidney and gall stones.
Many people use stinging nettle for skin care because it has been proven to reduce the severity of acne and can even prevent bacterial infections of various types. Due to its antioxidant properties, it may reduce the appearance of scars and blemishes, encourage healing, and reduce both wrinkles and age spots.
For centuries this herb has been used to treat respiratory conditions, especially asthma, hay fever, and seasonal allergies. It’s been heralded as an overall immunity booster and a stimulant to the body’s lymph system. It also supports the adrenal gland, reduces inflammation, reduces plaque and minimizes gingivitis when used as a mouthwash, and destroys intestinal parasites and worms.
Stinging Nettle can also be used to fight hair loss and in many cases, to enable hair growth. Nettle can be a powerful and natural way to block DHT, both internally and topically without the side effects associated with prescription medications. If you’d like to learn more about using Stinging Nettle to treat hair loss, it would be in your best interest to read this article, “Benefits of Stinging Nettle for Hair Loss.”
Harvesting, Drying, and Storing Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle really does sting when its touched. The sting is caused by a chemical reaction and it is delivered through the long hairs that cover the leaves and stems. When disturbed, they inject histamine, formic acid, serotonin, and acetylcholine, which produces an irritating, uncomfortable stinging sensation at the point of contact. Sometimes this sensation can last for several hours after the initial contact. As a sidebar, the age-old remedy of baking soda and water applied as a poultice usually calms the pain.
Working around stinging nettle should be limited to experienced practitioners. A rule of thumb is to always wear long pants, shirts with long sleeves, and gloves. If you are foraging, then add sturdy boots and trouser blousers to avoid anything sliding up your pant leg. Stinging nettle is early to pop up in the spring and it grows quickly. The best time to harvest is just before blossoms develop; throughout the spring and into early summer. Once its has gone to seed, the leaves will become bitter and develop gritty particles that some people find irritating.
Cut plants about 3″ from the ground, preferably just above a point where leaves are branching off. This technique works well for many other herbs as well; it encourages the plant to grow and if you are in the right climate, will allow for several harvests each year. Use sharp scissors or garden shears to make rapid clean cuts for best results. Store the cuttings in a basket or paper bag.
Drying, crushing, or cooking will take the sting out of the nettle. Most people use stinging nettle in tea, so drying is the preferable method for storage. After harvesting, wash the cuttings in cold water and carefully dry them with a towel; otherwise you may see dark spots appear on the leaves. You can hang-dry them in small bundles similar to how you would dry comfrey or melissa; gather them in small groups by the stem ends and tie a length of twine around the bundle. Hang them in an area with good air circulation but not too much sunlight and check daily for progress – remember that the stems will take longer than the leaves to dry. Once they are fully dry, store in large pieces in a glass jar or paper bag until you are ready to use them. You can also dry them in a home dehydrator. Use the lowest setting and start checking them for dryness after 12 hours. The process can take up to 24 hours depending on the thickness of the stems.
Unlike many leafy herbs, stinging nettles can be frozen. Start by first blanching them in boiling water for about 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, remove them form the water and immediately submerge them in ice water to stop the cooking process. You’ll be left with a green squishy mass when this process is completed. Wrap the bundle in a dishcloth or towel and try to squeeze as much of the water out as you can. Once this is done, you will have a block which looks similar to frozen spinach. Separate the mass into usable portions and use freezer bags or resealable plastic ware for freezing. Use frozen stinging nettles within 6 months for the best flavor.
Stinging Nettle Tea
Stinging nettle tea has been described as tasting floral with a slight bitter aftertaste. Many people suggest adding a touch of honey to sweeten it, but its up to the individual. You can prepare tea using fresh or dried leaves. To prepare fresh, use clean and dried leaves (avoid the larger stem pieces). Use about 1 cup of loosely packed leaves per quart of water to get good results. Put the leaves in a metal cooking pot and cover with boiling water. Allow the mixture to steep for at least 15 minutes. Strain and serve while still hot. If you are using dried stinging nettle, use 7-8 tsp of dried herb per quart of water. For making individual cups of stinging nettle tea with dried product and a tea-ball, use 2 tsp per cup.
There are alternative methods for making the tea, including boiling fresh nettles and water or stewing the leaves in already boiling water. However you choose to prepare the tea is up to you; what’s important is the benefits. Stinging nettle tea can be refrigerated and served on ice.
Warnings and Interactions
All herbs should be used cautiously until you are comfortable with their results. Stinging nettle should be avoided if you are allergic or sensitive to nettles. Due to it’s blood pressure lowering effect, elderly or those with blood pressure issues should consult with their doctor before using this herb. It’s also considered risky for diabetics to use stinging nettle because it may interfere with blood sugar levels. It may interact with blood thinners, diuretics, blood pressure drugs, and anti-inflammatory medications. All questions about using this herb should be asked to a medical professional.