Nettle: The Sting that Heals

When most think of nettles, they think of a weed that needs avoidance due to it's "stinging nettles".  I like to think of plants like this as protectors of the secrets- they try to keep you away, smart beyond our years, and they usually hold a nutritional bounty. 

 In the Spring, nettles begin to sprout up in areas that are usually forgotten- the wood piles, compost piles, and grassy forest beds of the Pacific Northwest.  I love to harvest them in April and May, when the young buds appear, allowing for a nutritious addition to salads, stews, and many other dishes. The leaves can be harvested for teas, or freeze dried for capsules.   If you haven't thought of nettles as a great wild food to eat, here are a few reasons that could change your mind.

  • Nettles are a vitamin factory- rich in iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and chromium.  Most of the population is mineral deficient so eating nettle can give  a great boost of minerals. Proper mineral status is important for enzymatic processes, energy, relaxation, bone and heart health- just to name a few! 
  • Nettle makes amazing remedies for hair and scalp problems, growing pains/joint aches in children and adults, PMS, menopause, and reproductive issues, nourishes the urinary tract and liver, and is excellent for allergies and hay fever!  (Stinging nettles create that sting by bringing histamine to the area of injury- thus it can also decrease histamine production when taken as food or medicine!)
  • Nettles are good for improving hormonal status in men and women by decreasing Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, which bind to testosterone to make it inactive.  By decreasing SHBG, the body has more free testosterone, which is the active form that we need for health.  Check out more about testosterone in HHH Podcast Episode #19 with Dr. Jade Teta. 

Harvesting in the spring won't last long, they will be gone when the heat of the sun starts to appear, so take advantage of gathering as much as possible.  A few key points to remember when harvesting:

  • Collect plants from a healthy environment.   If they've been sprayed or are on the side of busy roads, not a good idea to eat those.  
  • Collection requires full gloves, do not touch.  (There is a way to harvest without gloves, but honestly you will get stung like crazy before you figure it out.)
  • Collect young buds for salads etc- but always steam or saute before you eat- stinging in the mouth would be ouch! 
  • Other leaves can be dried, dehydrated, or freeze dried for teas or capsules. The tea goes excellent with dandelion and oats for a relaxing, kidney and herbal tonic.   
  • Roots can be harvested, then steamed and eaten- but they aren't as good as the tender tops.  

If you don't have the luxury of harvesting nettles, consider going to a herbalist or health food store and getting some dried nettle tea.  It's a great tonic with a slightly sweet taste, that children will love!

Recipes for reference: