Monday, January 24, 2011

Stinging Nettle - Food and medicine

Please note: The information in this blog is general and is not specific medical advice. You should consult your own health care professional before altering or beginning a course of treatment. The writer of this blog will not be responsible for losses, damage or claims that may result from your medical decisions and you are strongly encouraged to do your own research prior to any medical decision you make.

Soon it will be spring. Thoughts of spring cause my mouth to start watering in anticipation of tasty herbal greens waiting to crop up from the earth. You too can enjoy the bounty of spring. Let me introduce you to one of my special friends stinging nettle. Nettle is a weed. Thankfully, weeds are everywhere. Nettle is an edible and medicinal treasure provided freely from our wonderful and nurturing planet. It can be used both as a food as well as a medicine. 

As a food both the roots and the aerial leafy parts can be eaten. Although the roots are fine as soup stock, I mostly eat the tops of the nettles and like the early spring greens best. The most choice part is the top 4-6 inches.

I like to stir fry stinging nettle or cook it in soups and casseroles. I think it tastes like spinach with an attitude. A few words of caution for those of you unacquainted with stinging nettle; treat this plant with utmost care or she will sting you.  Wear gloves when harvesting and processing nettles. I have more than once, been on a hike and been surprised by a patch of nettles. In my overwhelming glee at finding the first spring nettles I have temporarily lost my mind and decided to collect them without gloves. Each time I have nursed my wounds, questioning such a crazy decision. No matter how carefully I harvest, this tasty plant reminds me that she is protecting herself and she is to be respected. Luckily once the plant is cooked the sting disappears and you can savor this delicacy without concern.

Only collect nettles in the spring prior to flowering. Once it flowers, the plant is not safe to consume as a food or as a medicinal tea. After they flower they can be irritating and may inflame the urinary tract.

Where I live outside of Eugene Oregon, the best time to harvest them for food is from the end of February to the end of March. Stinging nettle is beneficial as a spring tonic and rejuvenator. As a medicine it tends to be very stimulating and drying. It has a supportive effect on our immune system, spleen, circulatory system, urinary tract, nervous system, respiratory tract, digestive system and the endocrine system; including the adrenals, thyroid, and the pancreas. It nourishes our entire body as well as nourishing us spiritually by increasing receptivity to the natural energetic flow of our spirit. Nettle’s abundant minerals make it a wonderful addition to our diet.  Nettle is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and silicic acid. The high mineral content may be part of the reason for nettle tea’s ability to reduce the severity and occurrence of leg cramps as well as menstrual cramps and its ability to support strong bones. The high mineral content also benefits anemic, undernourished individuals. I make an overnight infusion of the nettles or if in a hurry a 25 minute decoction (not as tasty –overnight infusion is best) from the tea to extract its minerals. 

Besides the  high calcium and magnesium content of Nettle  assisting in keeping muscles relaxed, they appear to have a second  method that relaxes muscles. Research has shown Nettle may relax muscles via nitric oxide release.

I find long term use of nettle can be beneficial for support of multiple body systems. An example is the lungs. People with hay fever use the tea daily starting a month or more prior to allergy season beginning. They find it decreases their allergy symptoms during the season if they start early and continue throughout the season. People with other recurrent lung issues such as asthma have also found it beneficial when used over time. 

Nettle is also beneficial in excessive menstrual bleeding. It helps supply lost iron as well as helping to decrease the bleeding. Nettle favors elimination of uric acid and is therefore useful in gouty arthritis. It may be used as a diuretic in  some cases of edema. Nettle is best used long term in treating chronic illnesses. Due to its pleasant taste, I usually use it in the form of a tea. If you are using nettle for its mineral content it needs to be eaten as food or drank in the form of a tea. Most tinctures do not contain minerals unless the spent plant has been removed from the tincture, burnt  and the burned matter is returned to the tincture as in the case of spagyric tinctures.

Besides building strong bodies with her minerals, Nettle also shares her strength with us in the form of strong rope that can be made from the skin of its stalk.

I would also like to mention the use the nettle root and nettle seed, which are both, used medicinally too. The root is often used for BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy), while the seed is used to support kidney and thyroid function. 

Nettle is a bold, strong plant. This prickly herb likes moisture and shade. You will find it growing near creek banks in partially shady areas. Nettle prefers moving water where its roots do not get bogged down in stagnant muck. This plant tends to spread out by sending its roots in all directions. Therefore you find the plant growing in thick patches. If you invite nettle to your home to live provide a semi-shaded spot and give her plenty of liquids and a rich, well-drained soil. If she is grown in poor soil, she will enrich the soil herself. She does love nitrogen. If you give her a rich compost she will grow big and her leaves will be a very dark green. 

Amounts people often use

leafy parts: Tea - 2 heaping tablespoons per cup of water infused overnight (best) or simmered for 25 minutes or 30-60 drops of hydroethanolic extract. (tincture). This dose can be consumed 1-4 times per day.

roots: 2 teaspoons per cup of water as a decoction or 1:2 fresh strength liquid extract: 30-60 drops 2-4 times per day.

Seed: ½ - 1 teaspoon three times per day of 1:5 hydroethanolic extract (tincture).