Materia Medica: Nettles

 David Hoffman, an eminent medical herbalist, believes, "when in doubt, use nettle."

SUMMARY

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These spring greens get the spotlight as one of the most nutritious and safe herbal remedies on land.  Nettle strengthens and support the whole body.  It is one of the most widely applicable plants we have.    

Nettles are used medicinally as a cleansing spring tonic and a nourishing vegetable if gathered when leaves are young.  Some of its many medicinal uses include - gout, rheumatism, anemia, exhaustion, menstrual difficulties, skin problems, and hay fever.  

It can also be cooked and eaten, brewed as a beer, infused as a teas or tincture.  One cup of super-infused nettle leaf tea offers approximately 500 mg of bone-building calcium in a highly bioavailable form.

 It was one of the most important plants used in the manufacture of cloth, and many judged nettle fabric to be finer then cotton or linen.

The ancient Greeks and Romans cultivated more acres of nettle than any other crop, and they used it extensively as food and medicine as well as in clothing

According to tradition, Caesar’s troops introduced the Roman Nettle into Britain because they flailed themselves with nettles to keep warm and treat arthritic or swollen joints, which was called urtication.  The resulting nettle rash was reported to improve circulation to the area, relieving aches and pains.  

MATERIA MEDICA

Latin Binomial: Urtica dioica

Common Name(s): Nettle, Nettles, Stinging Nettles

TCM Name: Hsieh-tzu-ts'ao

Ayurvedic Name: Vrishchikali

Family: Urticaceae

Physical Description of the Plant: Stinging nettle is a common perennial herb to 8 feet found on moist forest edges, meadows and disturbed sites with rich soil. The dark green leaves are ovate and sharply toothed with a heart-shaped base and a pointy tip. They are located in opposite pairs and become progressively smaller toward the top of the stem. The leaves and stems are covered with tiny, hollow hairs tipped with silica. Nettle spreads by rhizomes, so each plant can have multiple stem and thus nettle typically grows in dense colonies. The tiny, inconspicuous green flowers droop in bunches from the leaf axils.   Hollow hairs on the leaves and stems inject folic acid into the skin, causing a stinging sensation.

Habitat: It grows wild in the USA and Canada and is easily propagated from runners.  Native to Europe and Asia.

Harvest and Collection: Aerial parts should be collected when the flowers are in bloom.  Harvest the root in the Fall.  Use gloves as the leaves sting.

Parts of the Plant Used:  Aerial parts: leaf (primarily used) and root (prostate and hair), seed (tonic for stamina and energy) .

Qualities: Cool, dry; astringent, slightly bitter taste.

Chemical Constituents:

  • Acetylcholine
  • Beta-Carotene
  • Calcium
  • Chlorophyll
  • Glucoquinine
  • Flavanoids
  • Formic Acid
  • Histamine
  • Iron
  • Leukotrienes
  • Magnesium
  • Protein
  • Potassium
  • Serotonin
  • Silica
  • Sulfur
  • Tannins
  • Vitamina A, B, C, K

Taste: Slightly bitter.  Astringent.  Salty.

Safety: Despite its sting, which can most definitely leave large, sore welts, nettle is generally considered a wonderfully safe, edible medicinal plant.

Drug Interactions: Avoid with diuretics and anti-hypertensives.

Actions:

  • Alterative
  • Anti-rheumatic
  • Anti-allergenic
  • Anti-histamine
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Astringent
  • Circulatory
  • Depurative
  • Diuretic
  • Encourages uric acid excretion
  • Galactalogue - Promotes Milk Flow
  • Kidney cleanser
  • Lowers blood sugar levels
  • Nutritive
  • Prevents Scurvy
  • Rubefacient
  • Stimulants
  • Stops bleeding
  • Stytic (hemostatic)
  • Tonic

Indications:

  • Allergies, allergic rhinitis, hay fever
  • Anemia
  • Anti-bacterial against staphylococcus aureus and S.. albus
  • Builds energy, alleviates exhaustion
  • Fertility
  • Gout
  • Growing pains in young children - for achy bones and joints
  • Inflammatory diseases of the lower urinary tract – prevention and treatment of kidney stones and gravel
  • Internal blood loss – including uterine hemorrhage, melena
  • Menopausal issues
  • Menstraul difficulties
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Prostate issues
  • Reproductive system - both men and women
  • Rhematoid arthritis
  • Chronic skin eruptions – e.g. eczema (especially childhood eczema and nervous eczema)
  • Stimulates circulation
  • Topical treatment for nosebleeds, burns wounds, inflammation of the mouth and throat

Contraindications/Cautions:

  • In rare cases, nettle leaf may cause allergic reactions.
  • Nettle root may occasionally cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Sting of nettle leaf.

Dosage:

  • 2-6 ml 1:2 liquid extract per day.
  • 15 – 40 ml week 1:2.
  • Take 1-4 ml of the tincture 3x a day.
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Infusion: Pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-3 tsp of dried herb amd leave to infuse 10-15 mins. Drink 3 times a day.

Combinations:

  • Nettle root with saw palmetto in cases of benign prostatic hyperplasia.
  • Nettle leaf with figwort or burdock in treatment of eczema.

Energetics: Cooling, Drying

Folklore: Urtication, beating with nettles for arthritis and rheumatism.   Historically, the late season fibrous stems were used in making strong cord for use in basketry, ropes and fishing nets.

Flower Essence:  Use Stinging Nettle Flower Essence when you lack the ability to recognize  an unhealthy, toxic or abusive situation. You may feel angry, powerless and incapable of changing the situation.  As your body responds to these feelings, it may manifest physical imbalances such as allergies, tiredness, foggy unclear thinking, a weakened immune system, arthritis and other joint issues, to name a few.

Applications:

  • INFUSION: Take to stimulate circulation and cleanse the system in arthritis, rheumatism, gout, and eczema.  Also increase milk flow in nursing mothers. Fresh shoots make a revitalizing spring tonic.
  • TINCTURE: Used in combinations for prostate, arthritic disorders, skin problems, and heave uterine bleeding.
  • COMPRESS: Soak pad in tincture and apply to painful arthritic joints, sprains, tendonitis and sciatica.
  • OINTMENT: Apply to hemorrhoids.
  • WASH: Apply to burns, insect bites, and wounds.
  • JUICE: Liquidize whole fresh plant to make a good tonic for debilitated conditions and anaemia and to soothe nettle stings. Prescribed for cardiac insufficiency with oedema.
  • POWDER: Inhale as a snuff for nosebleeds. 
  • HAIR RINSE: Use the decoction as a rinse for dandruff, falling hair, and as a general conditioner.

Recipes

Steamed Nettles

Ingredients

  • Fresh picked nettles
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Steam until no little nettle stingers are left.
  2. Sprinkle generously with olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

Serves: 4 servings

SPRING NETTLE SOUP

INGREDIENTS

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  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, halved
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1l vegetable stock/broth/water (4 cups)
  • 100g nettle tops (4 cups of leaves)
  • fresh chives to garnish

Method

  1. In a large pot heat 1tbsp of olive oil, add chopped onion, garlic, celery and leek and leave to cook for about 5 minutes stirring frequently.
  2. After 5 minutes add potatoes and your choice of liquid. Bring to a boil and leave to simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are soft.
  3. Carefully pick nettle leaves from the stems and wash thoroughly. It's best to use gloves to do that. Once potatoes are soft add nettles to the pot and boil for 2 more minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and carefully blend until smooth.
  5. Serve garnished with freshly chopped chives.
  6. Enjoy!

    Spring Green Goddess Dressing

    Up your salad game with spring tonic herbs.

    Serves 2

    Time: 20 minutes

    Ingredients

    •  1/2 cup of a blend of chopped green onion and parsley
    • 1/2 cup chopped nettle (wear gloves for this one), chickweed, dandelion, or spring greens of choice
    • 1/3 cup tahini
    • 1 Tbsp sesame or hemp seeds
    • 2 Tbsp tamari
    • 4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
    • ½ lemon, juiced
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 1/3 cup coconut milk
    • 1/4 cup avocado or olive oil
    • Black pepper and salt to taste

    Method

    1. With gloves on, carefully remove nettle leaves from the stem with scissors and add them to the strainer.
    2. Blanch the nettles in a small amount of hot water, until they are thoroughly wilted, and allow them to dry or pat them dry with a paper towel.
    3. Chop the nettle and add to the food processor.
    4. Clear the cutting board, remove the gloves, chop the rest of the greens, and put them in the food processor.
    5. Add all remaining ingredients—except oil—to the mix and pulse until the dressing takes a bright green liquid form.
    6. Keep the food processor running and slowly add in your oil—this makes the dressing super creamy!

    Spring Nettle Pesto

    Prep time:  20 mins

    Cook time:  3 mins

    Total time:  23 mins

    Serving: 1.5 cups

    This spring nettle pesto is easy to put together and is delicious slathered on bread or tossed with your favorite pasta for a quick and easy dinner!

    Ingredients

    • 5 cups stinging nettles
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
    • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • ½ cup roasted hazelnuts
    • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

    Method

    1. Prepare an ice bath by filling a bowl with ice and covering with cold water.
    2. Bring a large pot of boiling water to a boil. Using gloves or tongs place the nettles into the pot and cook for one minute, you may need to do this in batches if your pot isn't very large. Remove the nettles and immediately place into the prepared water bath.
    3. The nettles are now safe to handle with your hands so you can take your gloves off. Remove the nettles from the water and using your hands squeeze as much water as possible from the greens. Strip the nettles from the stalks and discard the tough inner stems.
    4. Place the nettles into the bowl of a food processor and add the garlic, lemon juice, hazelnuts, nutritional yeast, salt and olive oil. Process until the mixture is blended but still has a bit of texture. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if desired.

    Suggested uses:

    1. Serve over cooked pasta with a sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
    2. Top scrambled eggs with a tablespoon of pesto
    3. Serve as a dip for crudites or crostini
    4. Spread onto a tortilla with some cheese or almond ricotta and toast in a pan with a bit of olive oil

    NETTLE POTATO LEEK SOUP

    Serves 5-6

    Ingredients

    • 5-6 medium sized potatoes, cubed. A mix of potato varieties is great and balances the flavor of the soup.
    • 3 leeks- chopped, without the green tops
    • 1 medium onion,  chopped
    • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
    • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 cups fresh nettle tops, chopped
    • 2 quarts of broth- bone or vegetable
    • 1 bay leaf
    • ½ tsp thyme
    • 2 tablespoons vegan butter or high heat stable oil
    • Ground fresh pepper
    • Salt to taste
    • Garnish ideas: Toasted nuts, olive oil, sour cream, parsley

    Method

    1. Saute the leeks and onions in the butter for 5 minutes, or until they become slightly soft.
    2. Add in the potatoes, garlic and celery, and cover the pot.
    3. Let the vegetables saute and “sweat” for another 5 minutes. Add in the nettles, broth and spices.
    4. Turn to low heat and cook until the potatoes are soft.
    5. Turn off the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
    6. Transfer to a blender or use a handheld one to blend to desired consistency.
    7. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot!
    8. Top with olive oil and other suggested toppings (above.)

    SPRING NETTLE TEA

    Serves 6

    Ingredients

    • 6 c. water
    • 1 Tbsp fennel seeds
    • 1 Tbsp. licorice root
    • 2 star anise
    • 1 bunch nettles, rinsed well
    • 1 c. dried nettle leaf

    Method

    1. Pour the water into a large pot. Add the seeds, licorice root and star anise. Bring water to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
    2. Add the nettles and simmer for 10 more minutes.
    3. Turn off heat and add the dried nettles. Let stand for one hour.
    4. Strain and serve.
    5. Store tea in a glass, air tight jar for up to 1 week.
    6. Enjoy!

    Stinging Nettle Pesto And Avocado Snack

    Ingredients

    1/4 cup stinging nettle
    1/3 cup seeds and nuts (I used pumpkin seeds and a few cashews)
    1 tbsp lime
    1 tbsp chopped scallions
    1 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
    1/4 tsp garlic flakes
    1/4 tsp onion powder
    1/8 tsp good quality salt dash of black pepper
    2-4 tbsp water (use as much as required to get the desired consistency)

    Scientific Research

    References: 

    Bone, K. (2003). A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs: Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient. St Louis, Missouri: Elsevier

    Hoffman, D. (1996).  The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal.  Element Books LTD.

    Ody, Penelope (1993).  The Complete Medicinal Herbal.  New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley.

    Gladstar, Rosemary (2012).  Medicinal Herbs. A beginner's guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

    Groves, Maria Noel (2016).  Body into Balance.  North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

    Thayer, Samuel (2006). Forager’s Harvest. Birchwood, WI: Forager’s Harvest.

    Foster, Steven (1993). Herbal Renaissance. Layton, UT: Peregrine Smith Books.

    McIntyre, Anne (2010).  The Complete Herbal Tutor.  London, England: Hatchet Company.

    https://www.treefrogfarm.com/store/flower-essences-tree-essences/stinging-nettle-flower-essence.html

    https://materiamedicaresource.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/nettle/

    http://edibleeastbay.com/recipes/soup/spring-tonic-nettle-soup/

    https://www.scalingbackblog.com/spring-nettle-pesto-vegan/

    http://ashleyneese.com/spring-nettle-tea/

    https://www.urbanmoonshine.com/blogs/blog/spring-nettles-diy-recipes

    https://nirvanacakery.com/author/rightnowisperfect/