Urtica Dioica - Stinging Nettle
Any of you ever had a run-in with stinging nettles? I like to tell the story of my brother, when he and I would go weed-hoppin' and he chanced upon a huge stand of nettles - but it pains me way too much! TeeHee!!
I’ve always wanted every herb I could find growing in my herb garden and it took me quite a few years before I could actually get a good stand of nettles to flourish. In the meantime, everyone I told thought I’d lost my mind and either laughed, rolled their eyes or warned me of their dangers.
Urtica from Uro meaning "I burn"
Dioica meaning "2 households" because when the plant comes up it will grow male and female plants and you can tell which is which by the seeds on each plant. Nettles is a perennial which means it dies down in the Winter and then comes back each year. It will spread readily by rhizomes and stolens - long roots underground and then along the route of the root other plants will sprout up. It grows best in rich soil, in disturbed habitats, in moist woodlands or thickets along rivers and along partially shaded trails.
Nettles looks a little like catnip but catnip does NOT sting. It has square stems but is one of the few plants with square stems that is not a part of the mint family. The leaves of the stinging nettle have on them tiny-like hypodermic needles, for lack of a better description, which when touched release several chemicals - the main 3 being histamine, acetycholine and serotonin and these act together to protect the plant.
Acetylcholine gives the burning sensation
Serotonin "What reaction does serotonin bring about in people or animals?" Yes it’s all mood related and when you add serotonin to the mix it is used to aggravate the other two chemicals.
I absolutely think it’s amazingly cool how all of these chemicals work together to protect the plant. Just so interesting!!
By the way, here’s a little info to tuck in your bonnet - or maybe someone here knows? Which state in the Union is the only state to not have wild stinging nettles? - Hawaii!!
Nettles are the exclusive food of several European butterflies - one of them being the Peacock Butterfly and one the Small Tortoiseshell. Also, some moths are known to feast on nettles.
Now - for the really technical stuff.
Nettles contains - calcium, iron, phosphorus, silica, magnesium, potassium, manganese, iodine, sodium, sulfur, chloryphyll, tannin, Vitamin C, beta carotene and B Complex Vitamins, high levels of easily absorbable amino acids and believe this or not - 10% protein- more than any other vegetable!! There you go vegetarians. One of the more perfect foods!!
As for medicinal uses:
Traditionally used for allergies. People have tried decongestants, antihistamines, allergy shots and prescriptions such as Allegra and Claritan all of which lose effectiveness over time and cause drowsiness, dry sinuses, insomnia and high blood pressure. Nettles has none of those side effects.
A nettles infusion/tea has been used for arthritis, rheumatism and skin conditions such as eczema; it relieves joint pain and muscle soreness.
It is used in shampoos because it is useful for dandruff and adds luster to the hair. Cattlemen have fed their cows this for years just for this reason alone. It bring luster to the hair and it’s full of good vitamins and minerals.
Nettles decreases inflammation and is considered one of most highly regarded herbs for men in alternative medicine. The root which is yellow has shown great promise for BPH, enlarged prostate and night time frequent urination and also the inability to urinate or painful urination.
In the earlier years of our country, when people got older and as they used to say "were wasting away" and didn’t want to eat or do anything, sometimes after a long illness or some death in the family that caused them to give up hope - people would feed them or give them a tea made from nettles. It was considered a restorative for the kidneys and bladder and gave nourishment to the whole body and many times it restored the health of an older loved one.
Nettles has been used all down through history in the making of cloth as well.
The seeds, leaves and roots are the usable parts of the plant.
Something new I learned a few years ago - NEVER eat the leaves of stinging nettles after the plant has flowered and gone to seed. The leaves develop what are called "cystoliths." They are like stones that are usually made up of calcium carbonate and can irritate your kidneys and bladder.
So pick the nettles while they are young, early in the Spring. Remember to wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt and leather gloves, then harvest away!!
I use nettles a whole lot for making infusions/teas. It’s not bad tasting at all. I also use it just like I would any other green. I eat it freshly cooked or steamed, I dry it and I freeze it. It makes a killer pesto and is wonderful in rice dishes.
I’ve prepared some Nettle Potato Soup for you to try. I made it with dried nettles and all the ingredients came from my garden excepting for 1 stick of butter, salt and pepper. I also have made some Nettle & Tomato Butter for you to spread on your bread. I didn’t make a lot but I wanted each of you to taste the goodness of Urtica Dioica. Any Questions?
So that was the program folks. I'll get some Nettle Recipes on the Recipes Page as soon as I can. See Ya!