Food is Medicine – Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles – (Urtica dioca)

One of the greatest revelations I had when I started working at RTB was realizing that stinging nettles weren’t only edible, but were delicious and highly nutritious!  What I once considered a pesky and painful weed is actually a plant that I have come to honor and cultivate in my own home garden.

Herbal medicine often uses the term depurative to describe herbs that improve detoxification, aid elimination and reduce the metabolic wastes that tend to accumulate in our bodies.  Nettles are one of natures best examples of a depurative herb.  For centuries they have been used to purify and cleanse the blood because they are full of iron, which makes them an ideal herb for blood tonics and treating mild anemia.  They are also used extensively for treating allergies (hay fever and hives) and asthma associated with allergies, as they can reduce the amount of histamine produced by the body in response to an allergen.  Nettles are high in vitamins A, B and C and proteins.  This wonder plant provides additional health benefits in the form of critical trace minerals.  As noted by herbalist Susan Weed, nettles contain “anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, diabetes-chasing chromium, and bone-building boron.”

This single-stemmed, perennial plant is one of the first spring greens to sprout up from our frosted fields.  Nettles spread by seeds and creeping roots.  As a member of the Urticaceae family, nettles have the unlovable trait of little hairs on the underside of the leaves and stems that function like a thousand tiny needles that inject a stinging, formic acid and histamine into your skin.  But don’t let that scare you away from this medicinal treasure.  You just have to treat it with respect, wear gloves, and carry a big knife (or scissors) when harvesting them.  As Rosemary Gladstar warns, “Be careful while handling ‘mother nettle,’ who will sting right up to the time she’s cooked.”  We have to admire a plant that has created such a reliable defense mechanism for itself!  Nettles can be cooked by blanching, steaming, sautéing or adding them into soups or stir-fry.  Basically, they can be substituted in any recipe that you would normally use spinach or kale.  At RTB, we love them sautéed with garlic and farm fresh eggs!

Nettles are considered one of the most nutrient dense plants you can eat.  Check this out – “1 cup (89g) of blanched nettles will give you 428mg of calcium, which is just over 40% of the RDI (at 1,000mg/day) for adults. It will also give you 1.46mg of iron, 8% of the RDI for adult women, and 51mg of magnesium, about 16% of the RDI for adult women [1, 2].”  Nettles are an outstanding nourisher for our liver, kidneys and adrenals.  Nettles reduce inflammation and are great for cleansing the skin and body of waste by improving the excretion of urine via the kidneys.  Equally impressive, nettles are high in minerals that assist the adrenals by providing the necessary hormones that support an overworked nervous system.  All too often we are hearing about adrenal fatigue in our society; the unfortunate result of living our lives in a constant state of stress.  Stress causes our adrenals to continually pump-out a variety of hormones to maintain a higher state of awareness as a response to stress and the chronic busyness of our lives.  This is akin to the flight-or-fight response our primitive ancestors experienced when hunting or being hunted.  This important response is meant for short, timely durations not as the norm of daily living.   Adrenal fatigue is often characterized by depression, irritability, anxiety, a weakened immune system, and fatigue.  Incorporating nettle tea or nettle herbal infusions may be an easy, healthy way we can slow down and take care of our bodies.

Remember to only harvest nettles from pesticide-free locations.  Cutting them back throughout the season will encourage new growth.  We encourage you to eat them as much as you can while they are in season and don’t forget to harvest and dry some so you can enjoy nettle tea all winter long!

To get the most out of your nettles, try making a nettle herbal infusion.  Use approximately 1 ounce of dried nettles, pour a quart of boiling water over and mix, cover and steep for a minimum of four hours or overnight.

by Liz Wiley

References:

  1. USDA NATIONAL NUTRIENT DATABASE. (2016). Full report (all nutrients): 35205, Stinging Nettles, blanched (Northern Plains Indians). RETRIEVED FROM HTTP://NDB.NAL.USDA.GOV/NDB/FOODS/SHOW/8432?FGCD=&MAN=&LFACET=&COUNT=&MAX=&SORT=&QLOOKUP=&OFFSET=&FORMAT=FULL&NEW=&MEASUREBY=
  2. NUTRIENT REFERENCE VALUES FOR AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND. (2014). RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.NRV.GOV.AU/NUTRIENTS/CALCIUM