Nourishing Nettles: Medicinal Zing, Worth the Sting!
You guys, it's Springtime! I don't know about you, but this makes me so excited beyond belief that I can't even express the amounts of joy. I feel like I get to go out for my walks and not only is the beautiful sun shining down on me, but I'm seeing all of my favorite plant friends begin to emerge. Whether it's just the beautiful little violets on the side of the path, the salmonberry flowers or the cottonwood buds raining down. I want to share a bit about one of my other favorite plants that is starting to pop up right now - Stinging Nettles. I know a lot of you out there are probably like, "Yo nettles. They sting me. They hurt me. Why in the heck would I want to give any love and attention to this stinking stinging plant!?" But here's the reality, my friends. Nettles are actually one of the most nutrient-dense plants we have to work with in our world. They can be used as food and medicine in so many ways; it's truly, truly beautiful, and it's actually one of the most widely used herbs in the herbal materia medica. A lot of herbalist friends talk about if they had to choose one herb to use, it would be nettles. Of course, there's plenty of other herbs that these people talk about too, but nettles definitely gets a mention a lot.
So why in the heck would you want to harvest something so darn stinging? It's like begging for some pain in life or something like that? But really the truth is it doesn't have to be so harsh and hopefully I can help you explore the idea of forming a really deep love for nettles and the incredible value this plant has to offer you and your body and our planet.
One thing I love to do, I love to kind of brag or show off - maybe that's not what it is - but I love to go out and show people how they can harvest nettles without getting stung. You can totally use gloves if that's your jam, but I do it without gloves and it's a bit easier than you think. I just recently shot a YouTube video where you can see me out harvesting nettles with my bare hands and not using gloves because there's all these little hairs on the bottom of the nettle leaf that are filled with formic acid and other constituents as well, but that's where you get the nettle sting from. So if you were to grab the top of the leaf, you won't be as likely to get stung. Mind you, there are some nettle leaves that do have a few of those stinging hairs on the top leaf too, but, I don't know, it's a little also about just embracing that and the power that is in that lovely, lovely nourishing plant.
So, nettles. Why in the heck you would want to even take the time to go out and harvest nettles because ow, right? Really, again, nettles are one of the most nutritious plants we have out there. There is a ton of calcium in nettles. It's really one of the highest in calcium of all the herbs and plants, which makes nettles really lovely to create something like a mineral tonic, if you want lovely lustrous hair or strengthening your bones or skincare, even your nails as well. There's another cool plant coming up right about now called horsetail and it's a really good compliment if you want to start using nettles for the healthy bones, hair, teeth and nails. Remember to be mindful of when going out to gather these plants! I'm going to iterate over and over again, the importance of being very aware of your surroundings and the health and condition of the other plants. Are you near industrial or farm runoff? Stay aware of how pure the soil is and the ground you're around because these plants do take up toxins.
Not only are nettles really rich in calcium, they are also super rich in silica, potassium, manganese, sulfur, vitamin A or beta carotene, and also chlorophyll. I think it's so funny to talk about the chlorophyll because when you eat fresh nettles, like straight from the plant - which I'll totally show you how to do in that YouTube video - you taste this amazing flavor of fresh chlorophyll-rich nettles. I know, I know, most of us don't think, "Ooh, that tastes like chlorophyll! Mmm!" but when you eat fresh nettles, you're totally gonna feel that. It's just like, "Ah! This is so nutritious and delicious." When I think about what chlorophyll would taste like… it's that. So watch my video, if you want and learn how you can do that! They're also really rich in iron, so if you are dealing with anemia, you can utilize the nettles and their iron. They're also really rich in vitamin C and that's going to help your body to absorb the iron. You can also add some Yellow Dock with it, and that can be really, really helpful if you're dealing with anemia or low iron levels. Oftentimes pregnant women can have low iron levels and that can be a really good combination. Of course, when I speak about what you can use herbs for this is just for education. I am not here to prescribe to you or anything along those lines. So do work with your healthcare practitioner, do work with a qualified herbalist, do work with the naturopathic physician or whoever you need to work with. I just want to teach you what I know about these plants.
Nettles not only have all those epic minerals, they are also loaded with vitamins, like A, C, and K and Glucosamine. They are really, really fiber-rich and have a ton of protein for a plant. Like, way more than most of the plants out there. So if you are somebody who is vegan for instance, and you're wondering how you can get a really good source of protein into your body, start getting those nettles on board!
Nettles are amazing for ladies. Of course they've got the nutrient density and the ability to help you with luxurious hair, nails and teeth and all that good stuff, but also if you're a woman who, maybe suffers from heavy bleeding during menstruation or you bleed for long periods of time. Nettles are a really good astringent and can be really, really helpful for you for hemorrhaging or uterine hemorrhaging. It's a really nutrient dense plant for pregnant women and nursing mothers. They can do a great job of helping you to produce more milk if you are lacking in that department. As they help produce more milk, they are also going to nourish your body and bring a lot more of those vitamins and minerals into your body and into your baby's body, which is really, really important because if you are a nursing or you have been through pregnancy, you probably understand how that's a really, really hard job, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Having such a really supportive and nutrient dense plant on your side can just be amazing! I actually use the nettles in a few of my tea formulations specific for moms like my Mommy To-Be nourishing pregnancy support blend. Not only is it nourishing, it also supports the nervous system and it's really tasty because if it's not tasty, then you're not going to drink it. And I want you to be able to take those things into your body and feel good about it, you know? Not just be overwhelmed with like, "Oh my God, this natural stuff is so gross!"
I use the nettles in my Milk Lady's Blend, which is a blend specific for nursing mothers. It helps to calm their nerves, nourish their body and promote the letdown reflex. Funny little side note story on the name of that tea. It's called The Milk Lady's Blend because my mother has dark hair, she's got dark skin - she's absolutely beautiful. I am not short. I have blonde or strawberry blonde and I'm a pale white, pink- skinned person. And my mom would always say that I came from the milk lady instead of the milkman. So I don't know, it's kind of an old joke from long ago, but that's how that tea name came about!
I also use the nettles in the Peaceful Baby blend, which is really awesome for kiddos if they've got tummy upset or are dealing with colic or to help them calm & soothe their nerves during the terrible twos or just to get some peace and calm on a tough day. It's also got some herbs in there that help to fight off viral infections. So this blend helps nourish the body and to help those kids fight off the illness and to chillax, you know what I mean?
I also use the nettles in the Wonderful Woman's Tea, which is a really, really great hormonal balancing blend for sure. Women who maybe aren't in the nursing phases, but dealing with terrible PMS issues or sometimes you 'get a little bit more crazy' than other times - you need to nourish your body and support your nervous system. A lot of women dealing with hot flashes swear by this tea. There are nettles in this blend and they really help to support us ladies.
Anyways enough about those teas. I just wanted you to know that they contain nettles! Did you know you can also use the seeds of nettles? Oftentimes I am using the leaves in most of my formulas, but the seeds can be a really great trophorestorative when it comes to your kidneys and your adrenals. Nettles can be a really, really great help if you just need to renew your vigor or sense of energy in life. If you're dealing with adrenal burnout or you're just one of those people constantly feeling burnt out, or you just wish you could get more done in your days, you might really want to turn to nettles. You can drink them in a really strong tea or you can eat them in your meals and they are going to do a wonderful job of giving you a feeling of increased energy, clarity, vibrancy and health. Who doesn't want more of that, right?
You can also use nettles if you are somebody dealing with inflammation. There's a lot of magnesium and some of the other nutrients in the nettles are really helpful when it's inflammation particular to musculoskeletal pain. It's even said to be helpful if you take the time to sting yourself with the nettles! Maybe you're somebody who is dealing with chronic joint pain and inflammation. Perhaps it's an old injury or something along those lines, maybe arthritis? You can be brave and you can sting yourself repeatedly with the nettles. You're going to suffer from the effects of the sting for two to eight hours, whatever it may be, but there is evidence that the chronic pain will subside afterwards. Apparently it has something to do with restoring the communication between your nerves and the nettles ability to help repair old injuries. Again, you might be a really, really brave person to try this, but I also challenge you to weigh the potential benefits versus the costs, you know? If you do try it, and you find that you get great results (or not so great!), reach out and let me know how it went!
One of the women that works with me, Tonya, suffers from seasonal allergies. Do you? I know there's so many of you that do, and one thing you can do is use nettles. There's histamine in nettles and it alters the histamine response in your body so it's going to be really, really helpful in easing your seasonal allergies. The best thing, ideally, is to start drinking a really strong nettle tea, on the daily, a couple of months before you know allergy season is about to spring up then your body will have a greater ability to deal with those allergies. But if you forget or you're just like, "I don't have nettle tea two months before allergy season," or, you know, it's just not on your mind, you can try using really good quality freeze dried nettles to help with the acute symptoms of your allergies. Whether that's the runny nose, sniffly, sneezy nose or watery eyes, freeze dried nettles can be a really great helper during that time.
A couple of companies out of Oregon I really love that have an excellent quality freeze dried nettles are Eclectic Institute, in Sandy, Oregon, and Oregon's Wild Harvest, in Redmond, Oregon. Both of these companies make really, really great quality freeze, dried nettles so if that's something you are now on the hunt for, because you're sick of crying over nothing but allergies, I highly recommend checking them out! I don't make any money from them or anything like that. I just think they're great quality and I want you to start using great quality herbs in your life so that you can foster a deep respect for the power of using these plants as medicine and empowering yourself to do that. And then, you know, ultimately my dream is that helps you want to take greater care of our planet by taking greater care of yourself. That's my big dream in all that I do.
Let's talk a little bit more about nettles and how they can be really helpful in the treatment of eczema. Really helpful for adults and children, both, but it's particularly beneficial in children who are dealing with eczema that comes about maybe because they're really nervous or something along those lines. Getting some nettles on board with those kiddos is a really, really good way to go. It can even be really helpful externally, maybe as a poultice or something if they have very oozy or weepy eczema sores, because nettles are a really great astringent. An astringent just helps to tone and tighten tissues, so if you've got eczema sores, that can be really helpful there.
There is also a lot of research about nettles being helpful for lowering blood sugar. For people that are dealing with type two diabetes or insulin resistance, it's a really good idea to get nettles on board. You know, honestly, I could talk about the medicinal value of nettles for the remainder of my life. And as a matter of fact, I'm going to! I love nettles. I not only use them in women's health teas, they are also showcased in my Immuni-Tea for their histamine response and nutritional value. I use them in the Where is My Mind??? blend for those that need that vigor, clarity and a sense of energy.
Beyond trying my Mountain Mel's Teas, what is even more empowering for you is to go out, form a relationship with this plant, spend some time in nature, get connected, and find a place where you can sustainably harvest your own nettles. It's worth it. It's such an empowering feeling. It's really, really beautiful. It brings me such an amazing sense of joy just walking amongst the nettles patches near my home. Knowing that I can walk amongst these patches and don't have to take them all, and they will continue to supply me all season long.
If you are going to choose to gather your own nettles, there's quite a few things to keep in mind when harvesting them - or, for that matter, any other plant - it's really important to do your harvesting in a way that will ensure more of that amazing plant to come for future generations. So always be really mindful when you're out harvesting and never take more than a quarter of the stand, particularly with nettles. There are actually many butterflies that rely on nettles for nesting and growing their babies. They like to lay their eggs, their little larvae hangout in the tips of the newer nettle leaves. And they need those homes because I don't know about you, but I love butterflies and their little larva, and I want them to come back just as much as I want those plants to come back. So while I may go out and harvest nettles, I am always leaving plenty for those butterflies to nest in and also being very mindful and attentive to the plant because you'll often see little pieces of the plant that have been eaten away. It's a sign that you might have a plant that somebody is nesting in, and that's not the one you want to harvest. Let those butterflies do their thing, you know? We're all little caterpillars turning into beautiful butterflies, right? And we need that. We need that.
Also keep in mind when you're harvesting to snip them at an angle right at the node that is above the last set of leaves you're not going to harvest. So you snip and then, right under where you snip, there's still leaves left on that plant and that's going to allow them to grow back throughout the summer and ultimately be able to provide nesting for those beautiful butterflies. Again, super, super important that we care for the other beings as we care for ourselves, as we care for these plants, and our beautiful planet.
Other things to be really mindful of when you're harvesting nettles and anything else is, I think I mentioned this earlier, but it's so important that you are sure to not harvest near any farm or industrial waste or runoff. Nettles, particularly, do a really fantastic job of taking up the toxic bunches of junk into the plant and you don't want that. You don't want to be ingesting industrial waste and runoff. So really pay attention to where you choose to gather. If you have the opportunity to go out into a place with beautiful nutrient dense soils that you know doesn't have any harsh pesticides or herbicides or things like that around it, that's where you want to go. Again, I do have a video on YouTube showing you how to sustainably harvest nettles and how to never stare into the sun again when talking on video. I also, in that video, I show you how I eat a fresh nettle leaf right in the middle of the patch, which is pretty dang cool.
Want to add nettles to a SUPER YUMMY Spring Pesto? Then our Lemon Dill Nettle Pesto recipe is sure to delight your taste buds and give your body an extra kick of sunshine-powered energy.
Anyways, it's Spring! It's time for me to go outside and explore the beauties and joys of nature and smile at all my plant friends as they start coming up. I hope you now love nettles and you're ready to embrace the sting if that's what you must do.
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*Always remember to contact your healthcare provider when considering the use of botanical medicine as a possible treatment option and the medical considerations. While the information in this article is absolutely relevant, herbs work differently for each person and each condition.
**I am a trained herbalist and not a licensed or registered healthcare practitioner. I cannot diagnose health conditions, nor prescribe medicines legally; I am not a medical doctor. However, I will recommend or suggest medicinal herbs for various health complaints, as I do believe in the safety and efficacy of botanical medicine.
***The information I’ve provided is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment. Please consult your medical care provider before using herbal medicine, particularly if you have a known medical condition or if you are pregnant or nursing.
About the Author: Melissa Mutterspaugh
Melissa lives in Oregon, in the foothills of Mount Hood. She's a clinical herbalist, environmental educator, mother, wilderness therapist, lover, nemophilist, music loving maniac, and the founder of Mountain Mel's Essential Goods. She is passionate about inspiring others to take better care of our planet, through taking better care of themselves, naturally!