While many know stinging nettle for its sting, fewer know it as a superfood or about its amazing health benefits.
Ouch! It’s spring and if you’re a hiker, forager or outdoor enthusiast, you may have run into Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) and have the welts to show for it.
The plant has small hair-like stingers containing a compound called Formic Acid, which is similar to the compounds found in some insect stings. When touched, the tip of these hairs break off and inject this compound into the skin. For some folks, this amounts to just a minor skin irritation lasting several hours, while others may experience welts and pain similar to a bee sting. So, if you decide to forage this plant, do so with caution.
Ease the Sting
If you find yourself on the losing end of a stinging nettle encounter, you may find natural relief by applying a poultice of leaves from Plantain (the plant, not the fruit), Curly Dock or the juice from crushed Jewelweed stems. Some say relief can be found in the Nettle stem juices, though I’m not sure you’d want to get that close again after experiencing her sting.
Why forage this plant and risk pain?
Well, stinging nettle is an amazing superfood. When cooked (cooking removes the sting), they taste similar to spinach and provide more protein than most plants. They are high in easily absorbable iron, calcium, and vitamins b, c and k, as well as a host of other nutrients and trace elements.
Caution! If you have a blood clotting disorder or are on a blood thinner, consult a physician before ingesting stinging nettle. Because of its vitamin K content, as well as its astringent qualities, it has been used for its blood clotting abilities: nose bleeds, heavy menstruation, bloody coughs and urine.
It can be used medicinally, as a gentle diuretic or to combat adrenal fatigue and exhaustion, arthritis and other degenerative diseases. Because of its astringent qualities, it helps stem the flow of blood. It works as an adaptogen and balances the entire system.
General Rules for Foraging/Harvesting
- Make sure you know your area and obtain permits or landowner permission if needed.
- Carry a map & compass, and let someone know where you are going.
- Watch out for wildlife – some can pose danger. Carry protection.
- Dress appropriately, carry food and water, and a personal first aid kit.
- Choose plants that are at least (if not more) 100 feet off the road. Roadsides not only are contaminated by vehicle emissions, but herbicides are often sprayed to keep down weeds.
- Be able to identify what you are looking for …150%!! Two plants may look similar – one is safe to consume, the other is poisonous! Be careful!! My favorite go-to book is Peterson Field Guides – Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. I carry it with me all the time because you never know when you might have the opportunity to go foraging. Find a resource you’re comfortable with, study it and bring it along on your adventures.
- It takes time for a plant to regenerate, so be respectful and only take what you need. A good estimation is no more than 20% of a plant (buds, flowers, leaves, stems, etc.). Also, remember some plants need their seeds to generate next year’s crop, so be respectful and leave some behind.
- And finally – If you pack it in, pack it out!
When to Forage
The best time to harvest nettle leave is the spring when the new shoots are tender and before they have flowered or during the second harvest in the fall.
They make a tasty addition to soups, juices, and smoothies. They can be used to make restorative tinctures, decoctions, and delicious tea. Use them to flavor vinegar. Cook or steam them as you would greens.
It’s important to be 100% certain of your identification before foraging or harvesting any plant. It’s a good idea to do you own research for proper identification and usage.
In the summer, dried seeds are said to be energizing without being over stimulating. Whether or not it was wishful thinking, I have personally found this to be the case. If you’re a Homesteader, I’m sure you all have days that wear you out; I have found a 1/4 of a tsp of dried seeds in the morning to be helpful. A word of warning: I don’t take it much later than noon as they seem interfere with my much needed sleep.
Also, in the late summer, the stems, now tall and lanky, can be harvested for fiber, processed and used much like animal fiber.
In the fall, a decoction made from stinging nettle roots and horsetails (Equisetum arvense) makes for a lovely hair rinse that is good those suffering eczema, psoriasis, dandruff and some types of hair loss.
Tinctures, decoctions, washes… Have you used Stinging Nettle? If you have, I hope you share a tip or recipe in the comments below.
Content and Photos by Misty Meadows Homestead © All Rights Reserved
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Disclaimer: We are not Physicians nor are we Certified Herbalists. The information provided on this site has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent conditions, illnesses or diseases, it is purely anecdotal and stem from our own personal fascination with the natural world around us.
Before trying any herbal remedy, consult a physician or certified medical professional to make sure it is safe for you to use.