Monday, October 19, 2009

Nettles - A True Herbal Friend

Stinging Nettle
(Urtica dioica)

I’m thinking that this series of articles aught to be renamed “Weeds to Know” for the fact that most of them are written to clear up the horrible slander imposed on our leafy green friends. I am in love with Nettles. Some call it “Seven-minute-itch” for the itchy rash the plant’s stinging hairs cause on the skin; this rash is quickly cleared up by applying the crushed leaves of curly dock, plantain, jewelweed or violet. An old rhyme is a reminder of the cure for nettle-itch: “Nettle in, Dock out. Dock rub Nettle out!” Many people avoid it like the plague while out hiking, but most folks aren’t even aware of it at all. This is heartbreaking because Nettles are the most fabulous remedy for seasonal allergies, make a delicious herbal tea, are a fantastic cooked green vegetable, have sturdy fibers for making superior cloth and rope, and are really gorgeous (in my opinion). No kidding, I am in LOVE with Nettles!!!!

Okay, okay, so they sting a little. This is due to the small amounts of formic acid in the tiny glass-like stinging hairs found all over the leaves and stem of the plant. Once these beautiful greens are cooked, dried, or cut and stored in the refrigerator for a day or so, they lose their venom. Some people claim to never get stung by them at all; according to Stalking Wolf, a legendary Apache scout and medicine man (known to the fans of Tom Brown Jr.’s books as Grandfather), if you show no fear and talk to them, the nettles won’t sting you. I sing songs of gratitude to the nettles when I pick them and I don’t fear them, but that doesn’t stop me from wearing gloves…just in case!!

The sting isn’t even all bad; people have used the topical application of the stinging plant (called urtication) to treat arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatism and numbness. It was often used by warriors to encourage circulation in order to help keep them warm in cold, damp environments or to keep them awake if need be. According to the Doctrine of Signatures which shows us how the “personality” of a plant will dictate its uses, the stimulating effect of Nettles on the skin reflects its invigorating effect on the internal organs. It has been long used as a spring tonic that jump starts the organs and promotes energy after a long winter’s rest or general fatigue. It is very helpful for stimulating the thyroid, libido and the brain, encouraging hair growth and building tissue strength. It removes old, stagnant mucous, uric acid, stones and other wastes from the body while improving liver function and regulating metabolism. It’s like an herbal “kick-in-the-pants.”

As a potherb, Nettles easily rivals spinach in taste, texture and nutrition. It has very high protein content for a vegetable- up to 24%, plus significant amounts of iron, silicon, potassium and other minerals, as well as heart-healthy fats, chlorophyll, vitamins A, B and C. It is best eaten in the spring when the leaves are still tender, but when the leaves are tougher before flowering, cut the plant tops on an arid day after the dew evaporates to hang dry for nutritious teas… you may even be rewarded by tender new growth for another chance at a culinary treat. Its flavor pairs well with eggs, leeks, mushrooms, goat cheese and potatoes, and when combined all together, make a savory quiche. You could also opt to make a creamy nettles soup, or saute with garlic, mushrooms and white beans for a hearty side dish.
 Nettles tea is also delicious; it’s like a meal in a cup. Medicinally, this is the best form to take it in, other than freeze-dried capsules. I have often prescribed Nettles for all types of allergies, including some types of dermatitis. Nettles taken medicinally naturally decongests the sinus, opens the lungs to stop wheezing asthma and shortness of breath, and acts as an expectorant. It helps rashes that are red and itchy; it’s especially helpful for eczema that causes fingers to swell.

Nettle has an impressive record. It is frequently and successfully used for the treatment of gout, gangrene, chronic cystitis, dysentery and various ulcerations and is recommended in the treatment of tumors and cancer. In cases of “Blood Heat” in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where blood appears inappropriately in the stool or urine, nettles controls bleeding when taken internally; the juice or powder is applied topically, as with nosebleeds or bleeding hemorrhoids.

For women, nettles can also be used to promote the menses, for excessive menses, post-partum hemorrhage, or in a formula for bleeding associated with endometriosis. Wise women will also find it to be a useful galactagogue when nursing, helpful for regulating milk when weaning a child and supportive for building blood post partum or in cases of anemia. It is also valuable in the treatment of leucorrhea, edema and various types of urinary dysfunction.

Men need not feel left out, the root is effective for prostate health; the high amount of sterols improves the white blood cell count, which in turn reduces infection and inflammation of the prostate. As a remedy for alopecia, comb in nettles juice daily and wash the hair with nettles tea. If you’re brave enough, urtication of the scalp stimulates the follicles and is sure to impress the ladies as well!

Though often associated with simple country folk, nettles was prized as a home remedy, as food or beverage (including the famous nettles beer), for its strong rope and waterproof netting and rivaled flax in durability and smoothness for linens and cloth. It was cut and added to fodder for all manner of livestock to improve their coats, their health, milk production in heifers and egg production in fowl, and it made all the animals fatter and happier.

Each year, I gather shopping bags of these goodies to feed my family, friends and give away to clients. I harvest a lot, and I always think that there will be plenty dried to last over the winter for tea. That almost never happens; come February, there is never a surplus. Imagine my delight when I discovered  two new patches in the fields around the property that were only a small handful of plants last year. Now I will certainly be able to gather enough to eat AND dry!!!

Did I mention that I am in LOVE with Nettles? I hope that you, gentle reader, will find some to strike up an affair with and then, you too, will fall head over heels.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
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1 comment:

  1. Great information on Nettle Herb. Thanks a lot for this article!