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Stinging Nettles Are Good For You

Stinging Nettles Are Good For You

Today I weeded my very overgrown flower garden, and learned (the hard way) that stinging nettles are the most common weed there. But despite the fire in my hands that lasted for several minutes, I was so grateful to find them!

Here’s why… 

History

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a fast-growing wild plant common across all of North America, though it prefers the moist, forested soil of the Pacific Northwest. People have been using nettles for food, medicine, fiber, and dyes since the Bronze Age.

Stinging nettles get their name from the fact that their leaves are covered with tiny sharp needles that release a painful combination  formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), plus other unknown compounds. Some of these substances are destroyed by cooking, steeping, or drying, but not by freeze-drying or juicing.

Although gardeners and hikers have historically avoided stinging nettles, the plant has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as people rediscover its health benefits in cooking and herbal medicine.

Nutrition

Stinging nettle has a flavor similar to spinach, and is rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, and many minerals including iron, potassium, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, silica, iodine, silicon, sodium, and sulfur. Nettles also provide chlorophyll and tannin, and they’re a good source of B complex vitamins.

Stinging nettle has high levels of easily absorbed amino acids, and they’re ten percent protein—more than any other vegetable!

I like to pick nettles in large quantities so I can juice them, steam them, freeze them, or put them in soups and other dishes. I also dry them for tea, and tincture them in alcohol.

How to Use Stinging Nettles for Health

Nettles are a traditional food for people with allergies, but lest you think they are just a “folk remedy,” a randomized, double-blind study at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon showed that 58 percent of hay-fever sufferers given freeze-dried nettles rated it moderately to highly effective.

As an expectorant, nettles are recommended for asthma, mucus conditions of the lungs, and chronic coughs. Nettle tincture is also used for flu, colds, bronchitis and pneumonia. Nettle infusion from young leaves is a safe, gentle diuretic—considered a restorative for the kidneys and bladder, and used for cystitis and nephritis. Nettles are also a great blood tonic and a helpful part of any detox regimen.

Nettle tea compresses or finely powdered dried nettles are also good for wounds, cuts, stings, warts, and burns. Other uses include treating gout, glandular diseases, poor circulation, enlarged spleen, diarrhea, and dysentery, worms, intestinal and colon disorders, and hemorrhoids. Nettles are usually used along with other herbs that target the affected organs.

It is no accident that the commercial hair- and skin-care products found in health food stores often list stinging nettle as an ingredient. Because nettles are high in silica and sulfur, eating nettles or drinking nettle tea can make your hair brighter, thicker and shinier, and make your skin clearer and healthier. Nettles are also good for eczema and other skin conditions.

Selection and Storage

Always collect nettles using work gloves, and wear a long-sleeved shirt. Also clean and chop nettles wearing rubber gloves. Once you’ve cooked them a little (or even soaked them in hot water for a bit), the stingers are deactivated, and the plant becomes wonderfully edible.

The young leaves are the best part of the plant. After the plant flowers, the leaves become bitter and can irritate the bladder and kidneys, so pick nettles when they are young and tender, and harvest only the top four inches of the plant.

It might seem a bit scary, but fresh nettles can be eaten raw. But be cautious and be sure to neutralize the formic acid that can sting you. Use your teeth, blender, mortar and pestle, or juicer to crush nettle leaves and eliminate their sting. Try using fresh nettles the next time you make a green juice or smoothie. Use freshly crushed nettle in soup and salad recipes too.

If you do get stung, use scotch tape to remove any stingers and neutralize the acidic burn by applying a basic paste made from crushed nettle leaves (indeed!), jewelweed, dock leaves OR baking soda. In a pinch, vinegar or urine can help too.

You can dry nettles for tea or tinctures either by hanging bunches of it upside down in a cool, dry place, or by using your dehydrator. Either way, wash the leaves right after harvesting. If using a dehydrator, wear gloves and remove the leaves from the stem. Allow the leaves to air dry for about 30 minutes or pat dry with paper towel.

Place the leaves in your dehydrator, spreading them out on the rack in single rows, making sure to not pile the leaves on top of each other. Keep enough space between each leaf so there is good air circulation. Dehydrate for 8 to 10 hours or until the leaves are completely dry (to avoid mold). If necessary, rotate the tray a few times through out dehydrating. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Nettles can be used as a nutrient-dense substitute in any dish calling for spinach or kale, but here’s a great way to enjoy them on their own, as found in The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook.

Stingless Nettle Paté
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Ingredients
  1. 10 cups stinging nettle leaves
  2. 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  3. 1 small mild to medium chile pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  4. 1 small onion, peeled
  5. 1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
  6. 1/2 cup walnuts, previously soaked and dried
  7. 1/4 cup black walnuts or wild hazelnuts, previously soaked and dried
  8. 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  9. 2 Tbsp light fermented miso (Tahini will work in a pinch, but isn't nearly as tasty.)
  10. 1/2 tsp. freshly ground coriander seed
  11. 1/2 tsp. hot paprika
Instructions
  1. Wash nettle leaves carefully, and shake or spin off any excess water.
  2. Place nettles in a pot with no additional water, cover and heat on low until just wilted, about 10 minutes. (Watch them carefully!)
  3. Chop the garlic and chile in the food processor.
  4. Add nettles and remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
  5. Paté will keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days if tightly covered.
  6. Enjoy on crackers, veggies and more!
Small Footprint Family http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog, including Amazon.com links. These small earnings make it possible for me to continue writing this blog for you. That said, I only recommend products I genuinely love, and that I believe would be of value to my readers.
Thank you for your support!

MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: Your health is between you and your health care practitioner. Nothing in this blog is intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations is at the choice and risk of the reader.




47 Comments

  1. Hi Dawn, I’m in England (I’d rather not be, but that’s another story) and we have nettles growing by the road and on bridlepaths *everywhere*. I cycle in shorts and you can hear me coming from miles away due to the ‘ouch, ow, ****’ sounds I make :-(

    I’d like to get my own back on the darn nettles by making lotions, soup and tincture. My questions are: as we are coming to the end of summer here, are the current crop still edible? And considering how close they are to road traffic, is pollution a problem?

    Altho I’m guessing / hoping the Council or Highways authority don’t use chemicals to clear the paths (‘cos they’re *never* clear, grr) I’m still concerned that any good points to nettles could be negated by the poisonous industrial environment that they have to grow in… :-(

    • The best nettles for eating are the early spring ones because they aren’t bitter, but for tinctures and medicinal use, older nettles are ok. I would avoid nettles that have road exhaust and grime on them. Try to find some a bit off the beaten path. :)

  2. I’m a breast feeding mother who’s child has eczema. If I drink the tea will she also receive some of the benefits?

    Thank you

    • It’s hard to say how much she will get and whether it would be helpful. However, eczema is very often a symptom of food allergy. My daughter had terrible eczema until I removed what she was allergic to from my diet (dairy, wheat, soy and a few other things), so they wouldn’t be in my breastmilk and make her sick. Once I eliminated her allergens from my breastmilk, her eczema cleared up almost overnight.

      My friend Emily’s daughter also had really terrible eczema and, as an acupuncturist and holistic health practitioner, she wrote a book on how she cured it. You can find her book here. Best to you and your little one!

  3. Stinging nettle above ground parts are used along with large amounts of fluids in so-called “irrigation therapy” for urinary tract infections (UTI), urinary tract inflammation, and kidney stones (nephrolithiasis). The above-ground parts are also used for allergies, hayfever, and osteoarthritis.*;*-

    My favorite web page
    <http://wellnessdigest.co/index.php/

  4. I recently made a tincture with Stinging Nettles, I used fresh leaves. Does the tincture have the many benefits that the tea and ingesting the leaves do? It’s just easier for me to include it in my day to day with a tincture but if i’ll get better health benefits having them a different way, then I’ll do that. Thanks!

  5. Is I only the top 4″ regardless of how you will be using them? How do you know if they are too big and bitter? Our wild plants are pretty tall now but I don’t believe they have flowered.
    Thanks! :)

    • These guidelines are for eating nettles. Wilt and taste a few to see if they’ve gotten too bitter; that’s the best way to know.

  6. I added nettles to my cabbage, onion, jalapeno kraut. This is my first time doing so. Do you think fermenting them will “kill” the sting?

    • I’m pretty sure it will, but test to be sure. The stingers are relatively wimpy and lose their sting with wilting.

      • Thank you for the information! I will let you know how it goes (I’ll taste the kraut in a week).

  7. Thank you for your submission on Nourishing Treasures’ Make Your Own! Monday link-up.

    Check back tomorrow when the new link-up is running to see if you were one of the top 3 featured posts! :)

  8. I love nettles! We eat them, we drink them in herbal infusions, use them in herbal baths and as a great plant fertilizer! Thanks so much for sharing this post on Natural Living Monday.

  9. I love nettles! My favorite way to have them is by drinking nettle leaf tea, and after reading this post, I think I’ll need to have a cup tonight! :)

    Thanks for sharing with Old-Fashioned Friday!

  10. Great informational post! :) I used to drink Nettle tea alot, I need to start again! Thanks for linking up at our Gluten Free Fridays party! I have tweeted and pinned your entry to our Gluten Free Fridays board on Pinterest! :)

    Thanks for linking back to the Gluten Free Fridays post!

    Party starts tomorrow at 7:05 pm eastern time! Hope to see you there!

    Cindy from vegetarianmamma.com

  11. Huh. Interesting. I’ve yet to really see some nettles at our place but after reading this I will definitely keep my eyes peeled. Thank you so much for sharing this info at our HomeAcre Hop last week.

    Hope to see you again tomorrow morning when it goes live at our new time: http://blackfoxhomestead.com/the-homeacre-hop/

  12. Well this is a new one for me, I will sure look forward to trying this recipe. Hope you are having a great weekend and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  13. Neat! I sowed some stinging nettle seeds to get a little plot started on our property since there weren’t any growing. I sowed them in an out-of-the-way spot, and I’m hopeful to see some growing very soon!

  14. Hello Dawn, I use nettles as a green vegie, sometimes cooking them together with silver beet and chopped onion – yummy – although being on warfarin I have to limit the quantities. I would sometimes like to copy off one of your recipes or information, rather than laboriously hand copy it, however I’m not able to copy and paste anything from your page. How can I take a copy of your recipe, please? Lori

  15. Nettles are plentiful on our property! I’ve been stung many a time. I didn’t know there were stingers that could be removed, I always thought it was just a chemical type reaction. They grow so fast in the spring that I miss picking a lot of them, but I think next spring I’ll make a point of harvesting a lot of them. Thanks! Great blog!!

  16. we are just learning the incredible properties of nettles- my husband takes freeze dried capsules of nettles – and we are trying to figure out ways to make our own since we have plenty that grow around us…. we have dried a bunch of leaves and are thinking about just crushing them and putting them into capsules. do you think that would be safe and not sting his stomach- it sounds like you know more about them than we do. thanks!

    • Yes, it really is that easy to encapsulate nettles. Simply dry them in a place where they will not mold, then powder them and put them into capsules. Once they are dry, they lose their sting. And even if they could sting still, your stomach acid is much, much stronger, which is why so many people can carefully fold them up and eat them raw! Thanks for commenting! Abundance to you and your family!

  17. I’m always looking for new kind of foods, and Stinging Nettles seem like a great source of nutrients, I really like the idea of making Stingless Nettle Paté. My query is, can we get an overdose? If I get an allergic reaction, what should I take for it? I am just a little bit concern about it, and I would like to know if it has other effects over the body.

    • Nettles are a food source, so you can’t really overdose, but, like with all foods, it is possible to have an allergic reaction. It is however very unlikely. Try a leaf or two cooked and see how you do first. It tastes like a brighter, richer spinach and can be used in the same way.

  18. I love finding new recipes for foraged food! Thanks for sharing this with the Hearth and Soul Hop.

  19. Amazing! My husband has serious allergies. I will definitely be looking into this as a supplement for him. Thanks for sharing. Hope to see you at True Aim.

  20. Oh, I love nettles, but have been too tired this spring to harvest any because it’s such a pain. Perhaps I’m too tired because I haven’t bothered eating any nettles! :)

  21. I might try that pate if I can figure out what a nettle is and not pick the poison ivy. :) I’m so sad at foraging. Your pate looks delish!

  22. I am a new convert to nettles now- I knew they were great to have in a garden for butterflies but now I am going to try this paté, it sounds so very delicious! Thanks for coming to Natural Mother’s “Seasonal Celebration Sunday.” I would love to see you again next week!! Rebecca x

    • Though they can be tricky to harvest, I think you’ll find them really yummy as a more nutrient-dense spinach replacement. Love Seasonal Celebration Sundays! See ya next week!

  23. I never knew this about nettles! Great information.

    Thank you so much for sharing at Rural Thursdays this week.

  24. We have tons of them down by the pond and I always avoid them — I’m terribly allergic to just about all types of weeds and plants. But this is a very interesting post — I never knew this about nettles.

    Thank you so much for sharing at Rural Thursdays this week.

  25. I’ve used the nettles in my homemade goat’s milk soap but never eaten it. This sounds like a good way to try it.

    • I bet that soap is just yummy and great for the skin!

  26. I can’t use stinging nettles! I tried to take them in pill format in college for allergies, and had an allergic reaction. Go figure!

  27. Great post full of useful information! Thank you so much for sharing. I never knew this and plan to share with my husband and son which are my outdoorsy men ?

  28. When I grew up, we had stinging nettles all over the place. We used to dare each other to touch them…. Kids.. we were such idiots sometimes.

  29. I Grew up eating Nettles all the time in Missouri. My mother and grandmother would make a big pot and add a ham hock to them. They would par boil them and freeze them for the winter months. I live in Arkansas now and don’t see nettles here. I make sure I get my supply of them when I travel north to see family! I love them they are so good! I enjoyed reading this! Thanks a nettle fan!

  30. I love nettle! We’ve been out collecting it this week for soup and I discovered a remedy as well — lamb’s quarters (another wild green). http://www.traditional-foods.com/tips/stinging-nettle-remedy/

    I am going to try the dandelion too!

  31. WOW … who knew? Really who knew! As a little girl I jumped off an old stone wall into a patch of nettles. I was trying to jump over them but didn’t give myself ebough thrust – lol … I can remember the pain of it all. I grew up in England and so the remedy was that wherever you saw a nettle patch you would always find Danelions … so you had to split the stalk of the Dandelion and rub the white sap onto the nettle sting and it would take the sting away … and it worked too!
    I knew nettles were good for something but I love this post … thanks for posting on Titus2sdays.
    Shelleu

    • I had never heard of using dandelions for nettle stings, but that makes perfect sense since the “milk” inside the stem is very basic. Thanks for sharing that great tip!

      • No problemo … may all your nettle patches be surround with dandelions!! :D

        • PS – do you mind if I link this post to my blog?

          • Not at all. As my neighbor’s daughter says, “Sharing is Caring!”

  32. Wow!  I just saw this sight on eHow Health.  I love it! Thanks!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I am to nettles as Bubba Gump is to shrimp | Seattle Seedling - [...] Stinging Nettle Paté [...]
  2. Stinging Nettles: A Chefs Delight! : Victoria Downtown Public Market Society - [...] are many benefits of eating nettles. According to Small Foot Print Family, people have been using nettles for food, medicine, …
  3. Much Ado About Superfoods - [...] bee pollen/Royal jelly, cranberries, pomegranates, pecans, unsweetened chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, nettles and more! With so many nutrient-dense choices available …

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