Nettles (Urtica dioica) are one of my absolute favorite herbs. Wait — have I said that already about some other herb? Hey, it’s hard not to love them all. But nettles are definitely my favorite. Aside from being a powerhouse healing herb, it’s one of the most ignored (or feared, depending on how you feel about being stung) herbs out there. Next to dandelion, this “weed” is the one almost everyone wants out of their yards and gardens the most. (Of course, you can always do what I do: offer your services as a free weed-whacker and harvest all those good herbs for your own use.)
Nettles are the go-to herb of the natural healing world. “When in doubt, give nettles,” was the famous advice given by herbalist David Hoffmann. Nettles have been eaten as food, taken as medicine, and spun into fiber for hundreds of years. They are one handy, useful, nutrient- dense herb, and you will come to love them. I promise.
Nettles for the Body
Let’s begin with the basics: nutrition. Out of all the herbs we talk about in this book, or, heck, even could talk about (and that’s a lot), nettles are among the highest in protein. But wait! There’s more! Not only that, but nettles even aid in the digestion of proteins (as well as carbohydrates and fats) by building and cleaning the blood, toning and detoxifying the liver, and helping the kidneys become much more efficient.
But it’s not just protein we’re talking about here, although that’s important; nettles are also a really powerful source of iron (pregnant goddesses, listen up), vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, and fiber. Don’t fall out of your seat yet, but nettles also contain an antihistamine that can nip those nasty allergies in the bud (especially the awful itchiness that arises in the eyes, nose, and soft palate).
So how does this bad-boy herb accomplish so much? Well, like all stories worth telling, it’s complicated. Let’s just say that nettles are closely linked to protein absorption in the body. Nettles facilitate the breakdown of protein into energy and nutrients. When your digestion and assimilation are improved, your energy level, allergic reactions, illness, and stress all get better.
Not only do nettles help digest protein, but they also help rid the body of excess protein. So, if you suffer from gout, arthritis, or overacidity (all those protein-related complications), nettles will help escort those troublesome proteins right on out of the body, bringing relief to acidic conditions. Overeating protein can also cause swelling in the lower extremities, pain in the kidneys, and pale or foul-smelling urine (anyone who has tried a high protein/ low carb diet knows what I’m saying). Nettles will help the kidneys get back on track, removing the excess fluid from the body.
Tea for allergy season.
There’s nothing quite like stinging nettles for allergy season. For a big brew, grab a quart jar and dump in 1 cup dried nettles (twice that for fresh; really, for fresh nettles, just cram as much in there as you can). Pour boiling water all the way to the top and stir. Cover and let steep. I usually let this cool, then put it in the fridge overnight. I strain it the next day and top it off with some filtered water so that I have a full quart. I like to drink a cup a day, adding a dash of lemon juice for extra hydration and vitamin C and a squeeze of liquid stevia for sweetness. You could also reheat your infusion and add a bit of local honey for extra-strong allergy relief and an immunity boost.
Note: If you’re already on diuretics or have low blood pressure, take it easy with nettle tea. A cup per day would be just fine (2 to 3 teaspoons of dried herb per 8 ounces of water).
Tea to restore nutrient balance.
Nettles are high in minerals, especially iron, and they help replenish and tone the kidneys and adrenals. For a great detox brew, grab a quart jar and mix 1/2 cup dried nettles, 1/4 cup dried dandelion leaves, and 1/4 cup dried alfalfa (double those amounts if you have fresh ingredients on hand). Boil up some filtered water and steep this brew overnight. Strain the next day, top off so you have a full quart, and drink cold or hot with a dash of lemon and sweetener. If drinking hot, add warm non-dairy milk, honey or maple syrup, and cinnamon.
Tea for digestive upset.
When you find yourself suffering from overindulgence in rich foods like dairy and high-fat meats, reach for your nettles. Steep 1 tablespoon dried nettles in 10 ounces of water for 10 minutes. This tea will help reduce mucus and relieve bloating, and it moves wastes through the body while replenishing potassium supplies.
Simple Nettle Recipes
This excerpt was reprinted from Herbal Goddess (c) Amy Jirsa, photography by Winnie Au, and used with permission of Storey Publishing.