Mother Earth Living

A Wealth of Nettle Benefits

Go beyond their sting to find a wealth of nettle benefits. They are rich in protein, ­vitamins and more.
By Peter A. Gail, PH.D.
July/August 1998
Add to My MSN

If you think of nettle leaves primarily in terms of their sting, it may be difficult to consider including them in your diet. But as it is unusually rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, it can make one of the most nutritious dishes.
Photo By unpict/Fotolia
Slideshow


Content Tools

Related Content

In the News: High-Fiber Diets Can Reduce Risk of Colon Polyps

A recent study finds that fiber can lower the risk of colon polyps, a cancer precursor. Fiber can al...

Edible Weeds 101: The Health Benefits of Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles may sound intimidating, but once you get past their prickly exterior this classic s...

Stinging Nettle Plant: The Underappreciated Green of the Wild

Here we go back in time to see beliefs and folk uses surrounding Stinging Nettle, how it is most com...

Handling Nettle Without the Sting

Whether you want it for tea or some other project, handling stinging nettle during harvesting does n...

It's a wonder anyone ever got past the nettle’s sting to find the wealth of protein, vitamins, and minerals within. But they did find many nettle benefits, and we’re fortunate. In var­ious studies, dried nettles have been shown to contain between 25 and 42 percent protein—making them one of the best-known green vegetable sources of protein. They’re also rich in calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and contain high levels of potassium, selenium, and other minerals, as well as vitamins B, C, and A.

TRY THIS: Nettle Soup recipe

Ancient Health: Nettle History

Nettles have been used medicinally for centuries. The most ancient medical use of this prickly plant was for urtication—whipping paralyzed limbs with fresh nettles to bring muscles into action. Oldtime herbalists used to slap the flesh of arthritis sufferers with nettles to counter pain. In more recent times, hot poultices of nettle leaves have been used for this purpose.

Roman soldiers planted stinging nettles throughout Europe’s colder regions and rubbed the plants on their legs and arms to warm their blood. In commercial trade, mature nettle plants were an important source of fiber for making paper, rope, and cloth for fine table and bed linens. So versatile are nettles that the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell once reported, “In Scotland, I have eaten nettle, have slept in ­nettle sheets, and have dined off a nettle tablecloth.”

Modern Medicine: Nettle

Today, nettles are widely used in alternative medicine. Because of their diuretic action—once ingested, they encourage the flushing of the system—they are often included in cleansing diets. In Germany, a preparation of nettle roots is approved by authorities to relieve urinary problems associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). And in many studies, nettles have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of hay fever; nettles can produce allergic reactions in some people though, so try small quantities at first to see how you’ll react.

Why do some nettles sting?

Three species of stinging nettle are common in the United States—Urtica dioica, U. chamaedryoides, and U. urens. U. urens and one variety of U. dioica were intentionally imported from Europe for food, medicine, and fiber, and they have since become naturalized throughout the United States. The rest are natives and equally useful. They all may be found growing along roadsides and ­ditches, in moist woods and thickets, in rubbish heaps, and in gardens and other places where the soil is moist and rich in nitrogen.

Nettles normally grow to three feet but can grow as high as six feet. The entire plant is covered with tiny hollow hairs with swollen bases. These bases are filled with the source of the nettle’s sting—formic acid, histamines, acetylcholine, serotonins, 5-hydroxytryptamine, and other unidentified compounds. If you accidentally rub up against stinging nettles, a centuries-old remedy says to soothe your pain with the juice of nettle itself. You can also ease the sting with juice from the crushed leaves of dock, burdock, mullein, plantain, or jewelweed. Each of these plants tends to grow near nettles, at least in North America. ­Additionally, drying, cooking, or steeping nettles will render the plants stingless.

Eating Nettles

If you think of nettles primarily in terms of their sting, it may be difficult to consider including them in your diet. But the stinging nettle, unusually rich as it is in protein, vitamins, and minerals, can make one of the most nutritious dishes I know.

Young nettle shoots are an excellent cooked vegetable when washed and then steamed in any water left clinging to the leaves. Cover the nettles and cook slowly until they are as tender as cooked spinach, then season with salt and pepper and serve (I like to add butter, too). These greens have a rich, strong, pleasant flavor that is enjoyed by Europeans, who add nettles to soups and casseroles and make them into fritters, beers, wines, puddings, and teas. They even make a stinging nettle cheese, which my wife and I fell in love with in England, and can occasionally find in U.S. cheese shops.

For cooking, stinging nettles need to be collected when the leaves are young, tender, and light green and the shoots no more than six to ten inches tall (the leaves of older plants are bitter and tough). Nettles can be mowed to the ground during the summer and new shoots will emerge and be as tasty as those found in spring. To avoid being stung, wear gloves to collect even young shoots.

Another way to enjoy nettles is to make an infusion from one-half teaspoon of dried nettle leaves steeped for eight minutes in two cups of boiling water. Strain the nettles out and sweeten the brew with honey. Natural healers recommend using this tea as a stimulant, a cure for head and chest colds and bronchitis, a tonic, a blood purifier, a mild laxative, and a diuretic, as well as to relieve asthma symptoms and jaundice. Nettle tea is also used to increase milk flow in nursing mothers, to bathe hem­orrhoids, and to make an astringent gargle for a sore throat and bleeding gums.

A variation of this tea has also been used to stimulate hair growth, make hair thicker, and give it a nice sheen. Boil one teaspoon of dried leaves in two cups of water with two tablespoons of vinegar for thirty minutes, then use the tea as a rinse to reinvigorate the hair and restore color.


Peter A. Gail holds a doctorate in botany from Rutgers University and has spent his life researching traditional uses of backyard “weeds” for food and medicine. He is founder and director of Goosefoot Acres ­Center for Resourceful Living and Goose­foot Acres Press, and author of The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine and 12 other books.


Previous | 1 | 2 | Next






Post a comment below.

 


MY COMMUNITY
no image
valerykenery
8/29/2014 12:04:10 AM
no image
HarvestRight
8/21/2014 5:22:39 PM
no image
NatureHillsNursery
8/20/2014 10:03:07 AM
no image
NatureHillsNursery
8/20/2014 9:59:22 AM
no image
NatureHillsNursery
8/20/2014 9:30:07 AM
no image
melisastarr
8/19/2014 12:57:22 PM






Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.