Urtica dioica


Mineral-rich nettle is one of the most nourishing tonics in the plant kingdom. First Nations referred to nettle as “green gold” and cultivated it in Mexico at least 8,000 years ago. Used for making paper and spun into thread fifty times stronger than cotton, nettle is also woven into a durable cloth. A great soil enricher, rich in minerals, nettle is revered by gardeners. Cattle and poultry thrive on nettles.

Anyone living a very physical life will find a supportive friend in nettles. Regular consumption of nettles steadies nerves, gives the energy needed and more, increases sex drive, and helps ease aches and pains.

Nettles provide optimum nourishment for pregnant women and nursing mothers. Drinking plenty of dried nettle infusion and eating the fresh greens helps prevent postpartum hemorrhage and improves the quality and quantity of  breast milk. First Nations women drink nettle tea during pregnancy to strengthen the fetus and ease delivery. They also use its abundant vitamin K to stop uterine bleeding. Nettle has a well-deserved reputation as a hemostatic.

Menopausal women find a superb friend and ally in nettles. Regular consumption of calcium-rich nettles helps nourish and steady nerves, strengthens bones, prevents osteoporosis and ensures a healthy heart. Nettle helps ease depression and mood swings and supports healthy functioning of the adrenals, which are stressed during menopause.

Regular use of nettles helps maintain even blood sugar levels and increases energy. Nettles also give a nourishing hand to the immune system. I think of it when dealing with Epstein Barr virus, swollen lymph glands, nerve inflammation and joint pain. Shoshone drink an infusion of nettle to remedy exhaustion and tired blood, and applied hot poultices to ease rheumatic joints.

Growing children benefit greatly from nettle. It helps build strong bones, teeth, muscles and brain, increasing focus, awareness and concentration.

Nettles contain abundant chlorophyll, calcium, chromium, magnesium, zinc and generous stores of iron, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, protein, riboflavin, selenium, silicon, thiamine and vitamins A, C and K. Nettles are famous for their ability to restore adrenal functioning and afford significant relief from symptoms of hay fever. I have seen allergic reactions completely relieved after a few days of eating cooked nettle greens and/or drinking the dried plant infusion. Nettles are salty, cool and dry. Nettles are an excellent tonic for the kidneys, offering unexcelled relief from chronic urinary infections, gravel or stones, and any kind of kidney distress. People suffering with hemorrhoids find great relief from frequent nettle sitz baths. German studies show long-term use of fresh nettle juice or dried nettle infusion effective for relieving the pain of gout. I infuse fresh nettles in olive oil and use it to massage the painful area.

Ortica comune, as we refer to this plant in Southern Italia, grows wild and abundantly in uncultivated land throughout our area and there are many traditional uses for it. The stinging characteristics of the plant have a long history of use in our folk medicine pharmacopeia. The lightly bruised leaves are applied directly to arthritic and rheumatic joints, causing an “allergic” reaction due to the irritant in the hairs of the leaves and stem, which contain acetylcholine, formic acid, serotonin and histamines, all of which work as rubefacients and cause irritation, inflammation and pain.

The stems and leaves of nettles are covered with very fine, hollow hairs called trichomes. When something brushes up against or bruises these hairs, their very fragile silica tips break off, and the remainder of the hair then acts like a needle. It pierces the skin, and releases a cocktail of the above named chemicals from the base of the hair. When we do this on purpose, it is called urtication. Urtication creates intense physical stimulation, and is used around the world to treat painful joints. Earth-honoring peoples recognize the healing power of urtication, and believe it activates dormant energies and stimulates healing. The Hesquiat of North America also rub fresh nettles over arthritic joints, sore backs and stomach aches. Nettles lose their sting when dried or cooked.

Simmering for a short period is enough to neutralise the stinging effect, and so the nettle, cooked in a little water and dressed with olive oil, is traditionally eaten in Southern Italia to encourage the elimination of uric acid and oxalic acid, and to counter both gravel and gout. A boiled nettle poultice is applied to relieve the chest pain of those suffering from pleurisy, a condition in which the pleura - a membrane consisting of a layer of tissue that lines the inner side of the chest cavity and a layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs - becomes inflamed. Pleurisy causes sharp chest pain that worsens with breathing. The same treatment is applied to the elbows and knees of those suffering from psoriasis. A nettle and couch grass decoction, taken internally, is used to reduce the inflammation of cystitis. The roots simmered in olive oil were traditionally eaten in omelets. And, nettle is infused in vinegar and rubbed onto the scalp as a treatment for dandruff or oily hair.

Nettles will make you beautiful! Hair and skin sparkle and shine with regular use. As a final rinse, it promotes healthy hair, checks loss and removes fungal and bacterial infections from the scalp. Chronic skin conditions, such as eczema (especially childhood eczema associated with anxiety), hives or acne may be alleviated with regular use of nettle infusion, 2-4 cups daily.

The seeds are a super food for the adrenals. We gather them as they ripen on the plants late in summer. We dry some and tincture the rest.

Flower Essence Nettles flower essence helps us make clear choices especially about leaving toxic situations. Use for releasing pain and grief related to partings and endings and to connect with the source of our irritations, so we can release negativity in a non-aggressive way.

Magical Lore Nettle is an ancient herb of protection. Carry some dried nettles in a bag to keep negative energies away or burn it as incense for the same purpose. Add salt to a nettle infusion and use as a cleansing spiritual bath.

Culture Nettle is a perennial plant and spreads quite steadily. It grows 5-10 feet tall with droopy greenish-golden flowers. Nettle is a host for the larvae of several butterflies, including Milbert’s tortoiseshell and red admiral. The seeds are tiny and light dependent, so just need to be tamped into well prepared soil in a protected place in fall or spring. They will germinate when the weather warms.

There are some people who have allergic reactions to nettle when it is flowering, so we avoid harvesting it then. We tincture young fresh nettles in alcohol. I infuse fresh nettles in vinegar or oil. I dry nettles on screens for infusions, and we powder dry nettles and sprinkle over food for a delicious, mineral-rich taste, much like kelp.

And, of course, we enjoy freshly gathered young nettles, cooked in many different ways, throughout the spring and early summer. Nettle butter, creamy nettle, potato and leek soup, nettle pesto, nettle omelets, nettle spanakopita…

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