Useful Herbs: Stinging Nettle
(You can also find this at the Expat Prepper)
I’ve always been fascinated by herbs, the different smells, flavors, medicinal and other uses never fails to astound me. Think about it for a minute – how HUNGRY did the first person to EAT a stinging nettle have to be? How did early humans discover the various uses for these herbs? (I always imagine the downtrodden, much picked on Thag being poked with a stick and told ‘you eat that or we beat you, then, if you die, we no eat it. Now eat!’)
There isn’t any deep or special relationship between my life and stinging nettles, my most memorable encounter with the plant was around 1980 at Camp Asbury in northern Ohio, and that encounter was me running as fast as my adolescent legs could carry me during a game of hide-and-seek, which in this case ran me right through about a fifty yard wide patch of nettles while wearing 80’s gym shorts, a tee shirt, socks and tennis shoes. If you’ve ever had a bad encounter with the plant, at this point, you’re either wincing or your eyes are crossing thinking about the result.
The only reason I decided to use stinging nettles for the first herb to discuss on this blog is simple: I flipped through ‘The Random House Book of Herbs,’ by Roger Phillips & Nicky Foy looking for rosemary and thyme, two herbs I’ve grown in my back yard for years, and saw the entry for stinging nettles. One wince of memory later and I decided to explore what can be done with this obnoxious plant. That being said, here we go…
“Nettle, or stinging nettle, is a perennial plant growing in temperate and tropical wasteland areas around the world. The plant has been naturalized in Brazil and other parts of South America. It grows 2 to 4 meters high and produces pointed leaves and white to yellowish flowers. Nettle has a well-known reputation for giving a savage sting when the skin touches the hairs and bristles on the leaves and stems. The genus name Urtica comes from the Latin verb urere, meaning ‘to burn,’ because of these stinging hairs. The species name dioica means ‘two houses’ because the plant usually contains either male or female flowers. (Taylor, 2012)
According to multiple sources, stinging nettle has been used for centuries to treat various types of pain, urinary issues including infections and an enlarged prostate, sinus pain, and insect bites. “Scientists think nettle does this by reducing levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body, and by interfering with the way the body transmits pain signals.” (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2011) Based on that, you would think that nettles are a miracle, wouldn’t you? According to WebMD: “People use the root and above ground parts as medicine. Stinging nettle is used for many conditions, but so far, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to determine whether or not it is effective for any of them.” (WebMD, 2013) Call me a skeptic, but anytime a corporation finds something that grows for free that people can use and bypass paying for a product, they tend to eradicate it or demonize it. If stinging nettles didn’t provide some use, I don’t think the remedies would have stuck around for hundreds of years, being passed down from generation to generation. NOW, I can probably spend an hour thinking of sixty different examples of ‘well, they kept doing this stupid sh#t, didn’t they?’ but we’re talking about PAIN RELIEF here, and I know in my experience, people have a pretty damn good idea when pain relief is working or not.
Moving on to the what, why and how of the piece, let’s start with medicinal uses, and then move on to culinary uses. ***PLEASE NOTE*** Consult your doctor before using herbs for medicinal uses, this is for informational, survival and survival prep purposes, if NOT in those situations, ALWAYS consult a doctor before trying any of these remedies. ****
Stinging Nettle Medicinal Uses
- Loss of muscle power
- Hay Fever
- Seasonal allergies
- Kidney stones
- Enlarged Prostate
- Multiple Sclerosis
- High Blood Pressure
(Various sources list MANY uses, far beyond this list; however, if a treatment is mentioned by multiple sources, it is in bold type. Sources include: (Taylor, 2012) (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2011) (Vance) (WebMD, 2013))
Preparation of Stinging Nettle for use
Traditional Preparation: Both the root and the leaves are traditionally prepared as infusions. Dosages depend on what one is taking it for. In herbal medicine systems, as a healthy prevention to prostate difficulties or to maintain prostate health, one-half cup of a root infusion 2-3 times weekly is recommended (2-3 ml of a root tincture or 2-3 g of powdered root in capsules or tablets can be substituted if desired). The natural remedy for BPH is one-half cup of a root infusion 2-3 times daily for 30-90 days. (2-3 ml of a root tincture or 2-3 g in capsules or tablets 2-3 times daily can be substituted if desired.) For allergies, inflammation, and hypertension: one cup of a leaf infusion is taken twice daily in traditional medicine systems. This also can be substituted by taking 3-4 g of leaf tablets/capsules twice daily. (Taylor, 2012)
Preparation of Stinging Nettle Tea
Find the Right Plant: Ideally, you want a plant that is small enough you can comfortably reach the parts you will need for the tea. I find that younger nettles tend to produce a better quality tea.
Cut off The Leaves: The leaves are where the principal goodness of this plant is stored. Cut off as many leaves as you feel would make a decent cup of tea.
Boil Your Water and Serve: Boil your water, add the leaves. You may wish to do this in a separate container, as it’s always difficult to gauge the correct amount of water and leaves you will need for a single cup.
Allow it to Infuse. This is incredibly important! Unless you allow the tea to infuse for at least 10 minutes, the sting will still be there – ouch! (Low, 2011)
After searching around for quite a bit, tea seems to be the most common use other than drying and powdering the leaves to use in capsules (or simply take like a headache powder.) Dosage is all over the place. I did find a recipe for a hair tonic that was basically the tops of stinging nettles combined with white vinegar, however I doubt a shining head of hair is high on ‘must prepare for disaster’ lists other than with the film and stage group of people. Searching any of the links at the end of this article will give information on how to prepare stinging nettles, though be prepared to dig, even the recipes I found for curing ailments seem to skip the steps between finding this plant and using “X” milligrams.
Culinary uses of Stinging Nettle
Other than the tea recipe above, which could be placed in the culinary section, references list using stinging nettles everywhere you would use baby spinach. “…they are rich in vitamin C, calcium, potassium, flavonoids, histamine, and serotonin—all the great chemicals one needs to reenergize after a cold winter and to combat spring allergies.” (Diehl, 2013) The author continues to detail how to harvest nettles without getting stung, including washing and blanching the leaves at a slight simmer for ten minutes, and includes a link to nettle soup.
On one of my favorite culinary websites, Hunter – Angler – Gardener- Cook, Hank Shaw has a growing list of recipes, including one for using stinging nettles to make pasta, and another to make nettle pesto. Just because you are in a survival situation doesn’t mean half-cooked rabbit on a stick. (Every time I see ‘something dead 3’ above a campfire in a movie, I wince, those shots are made and directed by folks who have NEVER tried to do that. On the flip side, the hobbits in Lord of the Rings put their CAST IRON pan right on a small bed of coals to cook bacon. They were doing it right.)
“We made quick work of the two grocery bags’ worth of nettles. Like all greenery, it shrinks massively in the blanching process. After its bath in the ice water, I set the now stingless nettles in a colander to drain. I pressed it to release more water (which I could have drunk as nettle tea), and then put it into a kitchen towel.
Here’s an important part to prepping any green potherb, not just nettles. Take the towel and roll the greens in it like a candy wrapper: One end twists one way, the other end twists the opposite way. Squeeeeze! More blue-green liquid runs out. Now you’re done. You now have prepped stinging nettles, ready to be frozen in a vacuum-seal bag or Ziploc, or cooked in any number of ways.
This is your standard prep when dealing with nettles. Is it worth it? You bet. Unlike acorns, there is no shortage of information about the benefits of Urtica dioica, the common stinging nettle. Even within the smallish world of the food bloggers I can think of more than a dozen experiments and posts, my favorites of which I will list below.” (Shaw, 2010)
As you can see, Hank Shaw thinks a lot of stinging nettles, and honestly, though I’ve never eaten one at this point, if he thinks they are worth the time and trouble, so do I. Spend some time at his website, and you’ll come to trust his judgment too, it turns ‘we shot a deer, how do we cook it?’ into a wide range of great tasting options, rather than ‘kill it and grill it or smoke it.’
I hope you enjoyed this short foray into one of the many useful herbs. I’ll keep digging around for other found-in-the-wild gifts to somebody surviving and write more soon.
Diehl, K. (2013). About.com Scandinavian Food. Retrieved 4 16, 2013, from About.com: http://scandinavianfood.about.com/od/cookingtechniques/ss/Nettles.htm
Low, K. (2011, 1 21). ilmdamaily. Retrieved 4 16, 2013, from http://ilmdamaily.hubpages.com/: http://ilmdamaily.hubpages.com/hub/Stinging-Nettle-Tea-How-Why-You-Should-Make-It
Shaw, H. (2010, 1 28). Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. Retrieved 4 16, 2013, from honest-food.net: http://honest-food.net/2010/01/28/grasping-the-nettle/
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2011). Complementary Medicine. Retrieved 4 16, 2013, from http://www.umm.edu: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/stinging-nettle-000275.htm
WebMD. (2013). Find a Vitamin or Supplement. Retrieved 4 16, 2013, from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-664-STINGING%20NETTLE.aspx?activeIngredientId=664&activeIngredientName=STINGING%20NETTLE