After a strong nettle tea this morning, I feel supercharged and inspire to share the wealth of our green and bountiful friend. The nettle plant is much misunderstood, yes it stings a bit, but there is so much more to nettles than that. It is one of the healthiest plants that grows in temperate areas and is something we could all benefit hugely from incorporating into our diets. Nettles are one of natures multivitamins (and the rest)!!
We love drinking nettle tea, its a complete health tonic and ideal first thing in the morning. The way we start our days is so very important, what we choose to put into our bodies after many hours sleeping can have a huge effect on our day and health in general. Nettle tea is the perfect start! It’s just one of those infusions that you know is doing you the power of good. Then you read a little into it and you’re certain. Nettles are packed full of pure plant power.
Nettles have historically been regarded as a superbly healthy food in many different cultures. Milarepa the famous Tibetan sage and saint ate them when meditating for ten years in a cave, eventually turning green and gaining the ability to fly (I love these legends). Sometimes I think we feel like exotic foods, with cool names, are our only source of sparkling nutrition. However, there are so, so many super foods on our doorsteps (or nearby).
The nettle picking season is just around the corner and we’re very excited. Hopefully a few will be ready before we head over to the States. North Wales is quite a tough place to grow things however nettles love it and we go on massive picking sessions each year, drying them in our dehydrator or in the boot of our estate car (on very warm days). We can then store the leaves for tea and adding to soups and stews throughout the year. You can even pan fry the leaves or use them fresh, just like spinach. Its a way of stocking up on essential minerals, vitamins and a whole host of sparkling nutritional properties, not to mention that the tea tastes wonderful. Its in the realm of green tea with a few added nuances. Some say its an acquired taste, but I think most are?! When the leaves are fresh, they have a lighter flavour. Free wonderfoods fresh from the hedgerow, now you’re talking!!
Nettles grow prolifically throughout the temperate areas of the world. They actually thrive on the waste we produce and interestingly, large patches of nettles may be used as sign of previous settlements that are now long gone from our countryside.
THE POWER OF NETTLES
One of Jane’s teachers, Susan Weed, is a firm advocate of all things nettle and writes about them extensively. Nettles are also known as the devil’s leaf and even wild spinach, they are certainly equally delicious and even more nutritious. There are literally hundreds of health properties attributed to this wonder plant, here are a few:
- Nettles strengthen the kidneys. Their Greek name is Urtica Dioica, ‘Uro’ meaning urine.
- They are a powerful tonic, anti-anaemic, diuretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-allergenic, decongestant, anti-arthritic, laxative, antiseptic, anti-rheumatic, anti-asthmatic, expectorant……..the list goes on and on.
- Nettles are ideal for women, especially during pregnancy, childbirth and lactation. Nettles help with menstrual cramps, nausea and bloating.
- A general relaxant that helps with hypertension.
- Fresh nettle juice is antispetic and can be used as a kitchen spray, for washing skin.
- Nettles infusions can be used to wash hair, leaving it shiny and thick. They are also said to prevent hair loss.
- Helps with gastrointestinal diseases, IBS and constipation.
- Cures the common cold.
- They can also help with hormonal, adrenal and energetic imbalances and the circulatory system.
- They can be taken as an anti-histamine, which over a period of time, can cure ailments like hayfever.
- Reduces gingivitis and prevents plaque when used as a mouthwash.
- Nettles are known as a digestive restorer and consistent use of nettles strengthens lungs, intestines, arteries and kidneys.
- Even the nettles sting has been shown to alleviate joint pain!
- And many, many more……
It’s even been said;
“The seed of nettle stirreth up lust……”
You can definitely say that nettles are an all-rounder!
It is worth mentioning that if you are taking certain pharmaceuticals, you should seek a doctors advice before taking nettles regularly.
Nettles are especially high in calcium, vitamin C and iron. They are also high in protein and fibre, a whole host of minerals and many more vitamins.
The whole plant is basically a powerful medicine, from roots to seeds. It is especially good for ‘pale and pasty types’. I like this little rhyme:
“If they would eat nettles in March and drink Mugwort in May, so many fine maidens would not go to the clay” (Funeral song of a Scottish mermaid)
We seem to have lost touch with so many of natures gifts that surround us throughout every season which are there to give us health and vitality. I believe that in each environment we can find the nourishment we need to thrive, that is, if we have the knowledge and are inspired to seek them out.
Nettles are easily identified by most, we’ve all had a little incident with them as children. Like any plant, if you are not completely sure, don’t pick it. There are many different types o nettles, this is especially true if you’re traveling to other countries. Some have a very nasty sting.
We travel with marigolds and bags in nettle season and when we see a good patch, we harvest. For eating fresh and drying, take the tender, young leaves from the top of the plant. The first four is a good rule of thumb. Like many plants, the growing energy is concentrated in the upper plant, this is what we after. Nettles become more fibrous as the season goes on, so get in there during early spring although some young paler nettles will grow in shaded areas until late summer. Always pick nettles, and any edible plants, away from man made signs of poisons and ground contamination. This means away from roads, railway lines etc. Many foragers also avoid plants near popular dog walking areas, or at least pick above leg cocking height!
Nettles are easily transformed into a delicious edible green leaf vegetable. Simple blanch them in boiling water, this breaks down the formic acid which stings. You can leave them to steep to make a lovely tea or use as you would any leafy green. Try a Nettle Aloo or Nettle Soup. We love them in smoothies and iced teas. Nettles make for a great pesto and can be used in place of basil and we especially like nettle hummus an stirring the leaves into hot pasta.
Rinse young leaves and stalks in water, place in a mechanical juicer or place leaves in warm water and leave to steep for 30 minutes. Place in muslin cloth and wring out the bright green juice. The juice will keep in a fridge for one day.
RUTH’S NETTLE SOUP
PAN FRIED NETTLES
Blanch the nettles leaves in just boiled water. Save the water as a stock or drink it. Strain the leaves well. In a frying pan, add some oil and garlic followed by the leaves. Fry for a minute and served topped with pine nuts or almonds.
Jane also makes a wonderful nettle tincture, basically pop lots of leaves into a kilner jar and cover with vinegar (you can also use alcohol like vodka or gin). You should use young leaves, dried or fresh are both fine. Leave for a month or more (the longer left, the stronger the tincture) and then strain with muslin cloth. Place in small bottles and use the tincture for eczema, psoriasis, allergic rashes, rinse in hair to treat dandruff, taken internally it is known to treat hayfever. Take 1 teas poon every morning as a preventative or three times a day to treat ailments.
Dry the leaves without blanching them. As I mentioned, you can do this in a warm car with a couple of windows slightly opened. On a very sunny day, thinly lay out the nettle leaves on news paper. Leave for a day and check that the leaves are nicely dry and crisp. If you are lucky enough to have a dehydrator at home, dry as you would kale or other leaves. It won’t take long.
The strong fibres of the nettle plant have been used to make paper, sails, bags, cloth (think a silky linen) and makes a very strong string or rope (fifty times stronger than cotton). Nettles have been cultivated in Mexico for 8000 years for these purposes. Nettles can also be made into a dye, the leaves for green and the stalks for yellow.
Nettles are a gardeners delight. They are hugely nourishing to the soil and are amazing on compost heaps. They can be brewed into a homemade plant fertiliser packed with nitrogen compounds (this stuff stinks by the way) and can be grown as a companion crop with tomatoes and aromatic herbs.
I still think that it’s incredible that nettles are not sold in greengrocers or markets. It is a shame that more people are not benefiting from this stunning plant. I’d say if you’re taking multivitamins, why not try nettles instead. They’re perfectly natural and free!
Drinking nettle tea and eating fresh nettles in stir fries, soups etc will ease and energise the circulatory, immune, endocrine, nervous and urinary systems. Like I said, an incredible overall tonic and they literally grow on trees (or in small bushes). If we all used nettles wisely, pharmacies would go out of business! Nettles are good for us in ways that we don’t really fully understand yet. The nettles season is coming, don’t miss out!
If you are interested in foraging or taking courses in the UK, www.wildforage.co.uk is a good place to start.