I recently read an article about stinging nettles, and was so intrigued by the potential health benefits that I decided to do a little more research on the plant.
Like most people, my first physical experience with nettles was painful. I saw (what I thought) was catnip growing in a crack in my driveway. I picked it out, sniffed to verify that it was indeed catnip, and much to my surprise, stung the underside of my nose. It hurt like H*** for several hours. Since that time, I have steered clear of anything remotely resembling stinging nettle. But now I’m reconsidering my stance.
The stinging nettle plant has a long medicinal history. It has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, people use it to alleviate hay fever symptoms (it contains antihistamines), in compresses or creams for treating joint pain, sprains, strains, tendonitis, and insect bites, and for urinary problems.
Stinging nettle has fine hairs on the leaves and stems that contain irritating chemicals, which are released when the plant comes in contact with skin. The hairs, or spines, of the stinging nettle are very painful to the touch. Stems are upright and rigid. The leaves are heart shaped, finely toothed, and tapered at the ends, and flowers are yellow or pink. The entire plant is covered with tiny stiff hairs, mostly on the underside of the leaves and stem. They release stinging chemicals when touched.
We don’t need to grow stinging nettles because they grow themselves. You will find them in your yard, in the woods, or along the side of a road. This ancient plant is one of the most invasive herbs you will ever experience, except for mint. Nettles are actually a distant relative of mint, and if cultivated in the garden, should be placed in pots or containers to keep them under control.
Ways to Use
Stinging nettle is found in many forms, such as dried leaf, freeze dried leaf, extract, capsules, and tablets. You may also use it fresh in tea, soup, or pesto. You can purchase stinging nettles in an ointment or cream form to be put on your skin.
The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and may potentially interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist first to see if there are any contraindications with your prescribed medications. Occasional side effects include mild stomach upset, fluid retention, sweating, diarrhea, and hives or rash (mainly from topical use).
Making Nettle Tea
Tea can be made with either fresh or dried leaves. I prefer to dry the leaves first. Cut some nettle plants (with gloves on!) andplace in a box. Put the box in your car on a hot summer day with the windows up and let them bake away. One or two days in a hot car will do the trick (it also works well for drying basil and catnip). Once dried, skim the leaves off the stem into a bowl and store in a container with a tight lid. Spoon a couple of teaspoons into a teapot and add a cup of boiling water. Let steep for about five minutes, pour through a strainer, and enjoy.
It can also be cooled to make iced nettle tea. Euell Gibbons, here I come!!