Stinging Nettle Plant: The Underappreciated Green of the Wild

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Freelance herbal writer, community herbalist and medicine maker Jennifer Heinzel hails from the cold city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jennifer is an avid writer, especially for anything folklore or myth-related to herbalism. She has written plant profiles, medicine, reflections and more for places like: the Chequamegon co-op, United Plant Savers journal, and NorthPoint Health & Wellness center. Visit Thymes Ancient Remedies to read more from Jennifer.

There are many types of herbs, from relaxing and stimulating, to nerve soothing and pain relieving. There are also nutritive or nutrient dense herbs, of which the stinging nettle plant (Urtica dioica), of the Urticaceae family, is. Stinging nettle’s name comes from the latin word urere, which literally translated means “to burn.” This burning, or more commonly put “stinging” sensation, is said to be from the leave’s acrid fluid (formic acid), which burns the human skin causing small blisters. A nitrogen and moist soil-loving perennial, it has seen some interesting folk beliefs and historically. In Austria, when burned it was believed to keep you from being struck from lightning, and in France, if carried with yarrow, it was believed to quell a person’s fear. Other more mainstream historical uses included yarn, linen, fishing nets, cotton and food substitution during WWII.

Local hand-spun yarn I naturally dyed with nettles, and alum that I would weave into a belt with plain white yarn.

Medicinally wise, stinging nettle was used for nearly anything from hysteria and gangrene, to things that have translated through time, including anemia and hemorrhoids. Historically, nettle was said to be used to expel worms caused by bad humors, according to Hildegard’s Healing Plants (Beacon, 2001). The famous English botanist Nicholas Culpeper said drinking a decoction of leaves and seeds, or fresh juice, of nettle provokes urine and expels gravel, especially of the kidneys. It seems, though, the most noted and famous historical use of Roman nettle (Urtica urens) was used in flogging to increase circulation to inflamed or pained areas, and to also treat ailments such as rheumatism, bleeding wounds, stiffness of joints and failing muscular strength. On the other hand, the Native Americans had been using stinging nettle for ailments including colds, coughs, gout, hair loss, and for pregnant or recently pregnant women to prevent hemorrhaging and encourage milk flow for breast feeding. Lastly, some other notable historical uses of nettle includes bed wetting, impotence, stomach cramps, constipation, scurvy, blood pressure and lymphatic problems; sore throats and nosebleeds. 

A stinging nettle in the Ecovillage of Findhorn, Scotland.

Stinging nettle has the medicinal actions as a diuretic, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, astringent, hemostatic and galactagogue. It is also very nutritious being high in vitamins A and C, potassium, chlorophyll and calcium. Besides being highly nutritive, it has histamine in its “stingers,” hence its very good reputation in treating allergies and other inflammations such as eczema, poison ivy, psoriasis and arthritis. Nettle is also known, even presently, to stimulate circulation. It is often used to treat passive bleeding, which is why it is used in lessening menstrual bleeding, and to treat gallbladder, kidney and adrenal ailments. This herb is also used in building nourishing core energy, as its seeds were used to treat tuberculosis and improve lung function after bronchitis. For menstrual ailments, such as cramps and overly heavy periods, a good tea one can take to improve these symptoms over time is the following iron tea (this tea is very good for menstruation because when women bleed they loose calcium and iron). Take equal parts of yellow dock root, nettle, dry watercress, parsley, dandelion root and dulse; and steep for 30 minutes.ENJOY!

Lastly, for fun, I included my favorite way to medicinally take nettles–nettle soup!

Nettle Soup with Miso and Mushroom

This is my favorite soup that my intern group and I threw together one night after harvesting a TON of stinging nettles from Paul Strauss’s property during the fall of 2011 at United Plant Savers ‘Goldenseal Sanctuary.’ I was wowed at how many things were in it that I normally don’t like separately, which was incredible when thrown together!

• 3 to 5 cloves of garlic
• 1 white onion
• A chunk of ginger
• A few handfuls of reishi and shitake mushrooms
• A few handfuls of fresh nettle tops
• 1 to 2 teaspoons of your favorite miso
• Tamari, to taste 

1. Chop cloves of garlic, white onion, ginger, reishi and shitake mushrooms.

2. Sauté mushrooms with chopped onions, garlic, and ginger.

3. Throw above ingredients into a pot. Add water and a few handfuls of fresh nettle tops.

4. Take off the heat, and once below simmering add your favorite miso (my favorite is South River brand).

5. Add tamari to taste. ENJOY!

Nettle References

+ For a delicous Nettle Fritters recipe, visit Mountain Rose Herbs blogosphere.
+ For further information about creative ways to eat or drink nettle, read Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health.
+ For further information regarding historical and folk uses medicinally, and otherwise, read Pamela Jones’ Just Weeds: History, Myths and Uses.
+ For flower essence information about stinging nettle, or other flowers, read The New Encyclopedia of Flower Remedies by Clare G. Harvey.
+ For natural dyeing with Scottish plants (the book that I used to dye my yarn) read The Colour Cauldron: the History and Use of Natural Dyes in Scotland by Sue Grierson. 

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