When I was a teenager, I was enthralled by the story of Milarepa, “Tibet’s Greatest Yogi,” who, spent twelve years in the cold high mountains, meditating and living only on soup made from Nettles and herbs. This is one of the most exciting moments in his story. And I remember wondering at the time what these Nettles were; I had heard of them before, and knew they grew wild in the forest, but somehow equated them with lichen and moss. They sounded profoundly unappetizing.
But no, Nettles (Urtica dioica) are more like wildflowers, shooting up all over the Northern Hemisphere every Spring, and rising to 2 meters by mid-Summer. Spring comes early to the southwest coast of California, but not this early, its the week before Christmas, and the wild Nettles are already growing on the shaded slopes of San Diego’s Florida Canyon ecosystem.
How To Harvest and Use Fresh Nettles:
Stinging Nettles are a wonderful vegetable that tastes something like spinach. And when you cook, soak, or dry Nettles, they lose their stinging property
Collect them with gloves on, cutting the top 5 inches before they flower, and either hang them up to dry to use later, put them in vinegar for salad dressing, or cook them into soups or stews.
I like them a lot cooked with potato and garlic with olive oil. In fact you can use Nettles any way you would use spinach. Just bring them home and soak them in water first, so you can handle them like a vegetable. Another way to use them is to dry them for tea, but what I prefer is to cook fresh nettles in a pot of water, and drink that liquid all day as a cleansing tea.
Nutritional Properties of Nettles
Nettles are high in calcium, iron, magnesium, chromium, potassium, and zinc, as well as vitamins A, B, C, D and K. Nettles are also rich in carotene and of course chlorophyll. With all that calcium and iron, they make an excellent food for vegans or vegetarians. They also contain protein.
Nettle vinegar can be made by soaking the fresh herbs in your favorite vinegar. The vinegar leaches the calcium and other minerals out of the nettles, and then you can sprinkle the vinegar on salads, veggies, stir fry, and it will be nourishing. You can even use this same vinegar when cooking greens like collards or kale, as the acidity of the vinegar (or lemon) again makes the minerals in the greens more bio-available. This very same vinegar can be used as a hair rinse, too.
Nettles for Allergies, Eczema, Atopic Dermatitis, Hives, and Allergic Asthma
Nettles have many medicinal uses, one of which is for Atopic disorders such as eczema, allergies, hives, and allergic asthma.
(Atopic disorders are disorders that involve an exaggerated IgE-mediated immune response; all atopic disorders are type I hypersensitivity disorders; most allergic disorders are in this category, but not all of them. Eczema, hives, hay fever, seasonal respiratory allergies, and allergic asthma are all in this category.)
But the active component in Nettles that reduces the exaggerated IgE immune response is lost when the plant is dried, but not when boiled. So you have to use your nettles either fresh or freeze dried. I have used encapsulated freeze-dried Nettles with great success for type I hypersensitivity disorders like hives, eczema, hay fever, allergies and asthma. It is an accepted standard of care. This is the brand that even my friend, a natural oriented M.D. in San Diego, recommends his patients: http://www.eclecticherb.com/ It is also the brand that I use, and they also have a version with Quercitin added, which is nice, as that is also an excellent medicinal for reducing hypersensitivity.
Nettles for Arthritis, Anemia, Kidney Stones and BPH
Nettle leaf is an herb that has a long tradition of use in the treatment of arthritis in Europe, as it seems to work via an anti-inflammatory process. Extracts of Nettles can be used also to treat anemia, kidney stones, benign prostatic hypertrophy (bph) and pain. Because of the high Vitamin K levels avoid these if on blood thinners.
Nettles in Breast Feeding
Nettles are also a galactalogue; that means they can increase and improve the quantity and quality of a mother’s breast milk. Here is a link specifically for nursing moms, especially those who struggle with milk production.
http://www.lowmilksupply.org For this purpose Nettles are often combined with Fenugreek, both of which can be used in your regular diet, as well.
Sources for quality dried Nettle leaf:
http://www.mountainroseherbs.com and http://www.inharmonyherbs.com/ In Harmony herbs is right here in San Diego’s Ocean Beach.
Nettles in Skin Care
Nettle is used in hair shampoos and rinses to control dandruff, and is also said to make hair glossy. What I like to do is boil my Nettles for soup or tea and just set some aside in a bottle. When I wash my hair, after rinsing out the soap or conditioner, I do a final rinse with this Nettle tea and just leave it in.
One can also make a dandruff treatment by pouring heated vinegar over chopped fresh or dried Nettles and Comfrey, let it sit for an hour, strain, and massage this into your scalp and let it sit for 30 minutes before shampooing.
Nettles Mouth Wash
Nettles has good astringent qualities, so it is beneficial to any of the mucus membranes of the body; it can be used as a mouth rinse , as a vaginal wash for vaginitis and yeast, and topically on eczema.
To make Nettles mouth wash, steep fresh or dried Nettles in hot water with clove and mint. Clove is a powerful oral antispetic, and is useful for bad breath from foods like coffee. Anise or Fennel are also useful. Now mix that water extract with Vodka, 1:1. Another option is to just decant the herbs directly in the Vodka.
If you have any questions, or have any good recipes for cooking with Nettles, please let me know.