The unsung hero of the garden: Stinging Nettle

Nettle is a superbly nourishing food and has beneficial actions on many parts of the body. It is helpful for the urinary tract, liver, digestive tract, reproductive system, and respiratory system.

Food and Medicine!

Urtica dioica has a rich nutritional content, and has traditionally been used for food and medicine as well as for fibre and as a dye by many in bygone times . It is also jam-packed full of vitamins and minerals – most notably magnesium, calcium, iron and protein that can be easily assimilated (Wood, 1997 & Weed, 1989).

Nettle helps to revitalise the entire body and increase overall health. This rich wealth of nutrients is helpful where there is muscle cramping from low vitamin and mineral intake, as well as assisting in nourishing the body after illness or prolonged stress.

Nettle as an astringent

As an astringent, nettle is used to tighten lax mucous membranes and capillaries in the body. Herbalists call upon nettle to help in situations where there is profuse discharge such as with seasonal allergies, diarrhea, heavy menstrual bleeding, and recurrent nosebleeds. Nettle is a wonderful herb for women during all phases of life from puberty all the way through to menopause.

Traditional uses of nettle

Stinging Nettle has been used in European’s herbal tradition as an arthritis pain medication. The whole plant is used, the root is a natural prostate help while Nettle leaf is one of the better arthritis remedies.

Modern day uses

Nowadays medical herbalists mainly use nettle seed to increase energy, as an anti-inflammatory and as a highly effective kidney trophorestorative. It slows down renal failure, evidenced by increased kidney glomerular function and lowered serum creatine levels. Modern clinical studies have shown that it also protects the liver, repairing it and restoring liver function after oxidative damage. Another macronutrient found in nettle seed called choline (a component of lecithin vital to liver function). Choline is sometimes used to treat liver cirrhosis and hepatitis. Studies have also shown that it is indeed anti-inflammatory and will soothe colitis (inflammation of the colon).

Adrenal overload and burnout

Nettle seed is considered a herbal allay that supports the adrenal glands and endocrine system. It is used as a tonic for fatigue and adrenal exhaustion; for people who are burnt-out, run down and low in energy, and libido. For those interested in biochemistry, the ‘feel-good’ factor from eating raw, dried nettle seeds is caused by the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and serotonin, closely followed by choline and histamine.

Today I have been processing my own nettle seeds that were picked last weekend. I let them dry for a week on a sunny windowsill and today very carefully extracted all of the seeds.

Here is a photo diary of just how I did that!

Freshly picked and dried in the sun
Seeds falling off the air-dried nettle
Heating the seeds gently removes the sting

Only the young leaves should be used because older leaves develop gritty particles called cystoliths which act as an irritant to the kidneys.

Nettle seed can be made into a tincture. In its most basic form a tincture is just an alcoholic extract. In the 16th century nettle seed was crushed and then soaked in wine, you can also infuse the crushed seeds in vinegar. Today, homemade tinctures can be made using 40% strength vodka at a ratio of 1 part of seed to 5 parts of vodka by volume. The seed must be crushed first and soaked in the vodka for up to 3 weeks before straining off. At this strength the usual dose is no more than 2 ml taken up to 4 times a day.

One note of caution: be careful when eating nettle seed not to exceed 30 grams a day. It can be over-stimulating and, like an amphetamine, prevent you from sleeping 

Have you tried harvesting any stinging nettles?