Nettles are delicious. Seriously tasty food. And they’re everywhere. And they’re free. And they’re so good for you.
Here’s a guide to making the most of these wonderful stinging soldiers.
How/ when should I harvest nettles?
You can harvest nettles at any time of year. The young ones can be tenderer, but it’s a myth that you can’t eat the older ones. In fact, the older ones can be great for making dolmades from (see below for recipe ideas).
To harvest, I suggest wearing gloves. You can harvest without them, and in fact the stalk itself doesn’t sting. The bottoms of the leaves are the only part of the plant that contains trichomes (little hairs full of chemicals such as formic acid, which sting us).
Play around without gloves if you’re feeling daring! I actually don’t mind getting stung at all, but the more I’ve handled them the less I do get stung.
What can nettles help with?
We use three parts of nettle in herbal medicine – the root, the leaf and the seed. Each has a completely different set of actions in the body.
The leaf is highly nutritive, which means, you guessed it – it contains lots of nutrients. It’s high in calcium, magnesium and iron (to name a few), and it’s a great choice for people with iron-deficient anemia. It’s also highly anti-allergic and works a treat for seasonal allergies. It can really put a stop those eye-streaming, itchy kind of days. The leaf is a galactagogue, and this combined with all its nutrients means it’s perfect for those that have recently given birth and need to regain their energy.
The root is used in benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH). It helps with urinary flow and reduces urinary frequency.
And the seed has recently started to show positive results as a kidney restorative. The seed is also used energetically for those that feel a deep lethargy, because in traditional medicine our kidneys are known to store our energy.
How does this work?
Nettles contain many phytochemicals including flavonoids (quercitin and rutin), amines (including acetylcholine and serotonin), silica and glucoquinone, to name a few.
Each of these phytochemical reacts with different biological processes in your body helping to change your physiology.
What’s the best way to prepare nettles?
Nettles can be eaten cooked or raw. I know what you’re thinking, raw nettles?! So I’ll rephrase that, you can eat them raw if you prepare them correctly – this means making sure the trichomes (stingers) aren’t active in your mouth. One way to do this is put the nettles in the blender. You can also soak them in cold water with vinegar. Alternatively you can eat them straight, as long as you fold all the trichomes towards the center before you put it in your mouth.
For effective medicines for conditions like hay fever and BPH eating nettles probably won’t be enough – you’ll need to consume them in medicine form. A tincture or a tea can be a great way to take this, but be warned that your dosages and preparations make a big difference to the formulas. It’s always recommended that you work with a professional herbalist if you want to see effective results in your health conditions.
As a quick tip, for those of you that have allergies but can’t make it to see a professional herbalist, I suggest juicing the nettles and freezing the juice in ice. Have one ice cube per day for 2 months before your allergy season begins and continue right until the end of the season. You will notice a dramatic improvement in symptoms.
If you’re looking for a really nutritious food source you can simply cook nettles up with your dinner. Much like spinach, they lend themselves well to curries, pastas, soups and pies. Cream of nettle soup is out of this world. Nettle pesto, spanikopitas, and dolmades are also favourites of mine. Simply pouring a little olive oil and salt over the top and baking in the oven makes a delicious sort of vegetable crisp.
If you want to know more, make sure to sign up for my workshop at the end of May, where we will learn to how to make a nettle tincture, tea and syrup.
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