I love the idea of hosting posts from guest authors and this will be my first! I have a wide variety of interests, but am no way an expert on anything. Getting information from well-informed folks willing to share their knowledge seemed like a perfect way to provide more information from more than one viewpoint. I will step away now and let him introduce himself and share his knowledge. ~ Clyde
Anyone who has ever been in the woods and brushed their hand up against some nettles knows that touching any part of the plant results in uncomfortable stinging sensations that can last for some time, and for this reason a lot of people have learned to avoid stinging nettles. However, nettles are a glorious, nutrient-rich plant that has so many health benefits and so many medicinal uses. It is found all over the world, from Africa to the Yukon Territory, it is edible and doesn't sting once its cooked, and it can be used in the treatment of all sorts of ailments.
I started taking an interest in nettles when my early spring journeys into the forest by my home revealed they grew there in abundance. I had to know what they could be used for, and it turns out they are a pretty useful plant. First off, they are completely edible. Yes, anyone who has been stung by a nettle might be nervous about eating them, but once they are fully cooked they no longer sting. The hearty green tops are particularly popular, but any part of the leaves or stems can be sauteed in butter, steamed and used in a salad, or brewed to make tea.
There are a lot of ailments that have been and can be treated by nettles, everything from urinary tract issues to weight loss to skin issues. According to Debra Rayburn's definitive book on herbs Let's Get Natural with Herbs, Nettle properties are: Acticarcinogen, antihistimine, antilithic, antiperiodic, antiphlogistic, astringent, countirritant, depurative, diuretic, expectorant, hemostatic, hypglycemic, hypotensive, lithotiptic, malariacidal, nutritive, stimulant, tonic, and vasodilator. They contain: Acetylcholine, ammonia, chlorophyll, coumarin, fatty acids, fiber, flavones, flavanoids, formic acid, histamine, indoles, lectins, lignin, minerals (calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, postassium, silicon, sodium, sulfur, zinc), monosachharides, mucilage, phosphates, phosphoric acid, polysaccharides, protein, rutin, silicic acid, sterols, tannic acid, and vitamins (A, choline, C (ascorbic acid), D, E (alpha-tocopheral).
"Ok," you might be thinking. "That's a lot of information about nettles, but what do YOU use it for?"
I want the minerals, the vitamins, and the energy this wonderful plant can provide, and according to acclaimed Wise Woman herbalist Susun Weed, the best way to do this is through infusions. Infusions are plant material that is steeped in boiling water for long periods of time. This helps break down the vitamins and minerals so that they're easier for your body to absorb.
The nettle infusion is great over ice, you can add honey to sweeten it, but I just like it chilled in the fridge. It has a nourishing, green taste that makes me think of spring, a time of renewal and rebirth. You'll need to drink your infusion within 36 hours of making it so I don't make a whole lot at one time. It's wonderful to have first thing in the morning to give you an extra boost of energy for the day, and if you drink nettle infusion on a regular basis you'll see significant improvements in your energy levels.
Where the Heck do I find Nettles?
Nettles grow wild in almost every part of the world. They are very common in the Pacific Northwest forests I've been in, but I haven't seen a lot of them in the Mississippi area my mother lives in. There is nothing quite as rewarding as being able to go out into the forest in the spring and harvest your own nettles. If you do have nettles near you and you decide to do this, wear gloves!
Also, I don't recommend harvesting them after they've become very tall and have started to flower. Late season flowering nettles can have microscopic mineral conglomerates that can cause a multitude of issues, from dizziness to skin rashes.
That being said, even with the amount of nettles I bring home during the spring it isn't enough for me to be able to make a daily infusion for an entire year (not that I've managed that, I regularly forget to make the infusions). For those that are going to be making regular infusions or don't have nettles growing near them, it is much easier to buy them online. They are affordable and available at many online herb stores. They arrive already dried and ready to infuse.
Do not use nettles if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, have congestive heart failure, kidney disease, edema, prostate cancer, or influenza. Can flush out potassium from your system so make sure you are eating more foods rich in potassium.
Interested in learning more about infusions?
I'm a curious-by-nature 50-something with random interests. Come visit often to see what the latest topic is.