Taking an inventory of herbs in my cupboard recently, I realized how much we use stinging nettles. In fact, I have several ½ gallon jars full of the stuff pushed to the way back. But 1 quart jar stays in my tea cupboard because my husband drinks a cup of nettles infusion every morning. If you’ve ever brushed up against the stuff growing in the wild, you probably cannot imagine ingesting it. However, stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) is quite healthy, and to some, delicious.
Stinging nettles is rich in vitamins A and C; and the minerals calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Also, a one-cup portion of blanched nettles will provide about 2.5 grams of protein, 6.5 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of total dietary fiber.
Some folks like eating stinging nettles as a green. Blanching, steaming, or otherwise cooking the herb removes the stinging chemicals from the plant. But first, some precautions should be taken when gathering this delicious herb that, well…stings.
A perennial that grows from 1-4 feet, stinging nettle is covered in stiff hairs that produce the sting. The leaves are mostly oval or heart-shaped. Its greenish flowers appear between June and September in long clusters. It is generally found in waste places with moist soil in most of North America and Europe.
Collecting Stinging Nettles
Wear long pants and sleeves when entering any brushy area that might house stinging nettles. When picking the plant, protect your hands with thick gloves. Only cut the tender new growth from the top of the plant and discard anything that looks insect chewed, brown, or otherwise unappetizing. While wearing the gloves, strip the leaves from any thick, chewy-looking stems and wash thoroughly. Discard the water.
After washing, cook the greens as you would spinach. Drain. The water can be saved and drunk as a tea, but you will probably want to sweeten it or mix it with a mint or lemon. The nettles are perfectly ready to eat just like this, or you can use them in a myriad of recipes as you would any other green. Just don’t undercook them or they will still sting.
Stinging nettles are also used for medicinal purposes. According to James Dukes’ The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook, nettles contain natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. Also, an extract of the roots is used as an effective diuretic.
The antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties of stinging nettles makes it ideal for seasonal allergies. It opens up constricted bronchial and nasal passages. Taking freeze-dried nettles capsules is the treatment of choice for hay fever-type symptoms. Also, the anti-inflammatory action makes it a useful herb for arthritis, tendinitis, and bursitis. Because of the diuretic properties, herbalists recommend nettles for gout, bed-wetting, and benign prostate hyperplasia. In fact, studies have shown nettles to be as effective as finasteride (a medication prescribed for BPH). To treat problems with the prostate, herbalists recommend a tincture of stinging nettles with saw palmetto. For urinary health, combine the nettles with dandelion greens and drink several cups a day.
As always, this information is not given to diagnose or to treat. If you think you may have benign prostate hyperplasia, see your doctor to rule out prostate cancer before trying any home remedies. Taking nettles in medicinal doses may also interfere with certain medications for blood pressure, fluid retention, or blood clotting. And, because it can affect hormone levels, pregnant women should not take nettles medicinally.
Duke, J.A. (2000). The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Rodale Books.
Gladstar, R. (2001). Family Herbal. North Adams, Mass.: Storey Books.