The Many Lives of Urtica dioica
30 days of Nettle Leaf (Urtica Dioica) infusion! Beginning on Monday March 20th
Please join us for the Spring Nettles Challenge (30 days of Nettle Leaf (Urtica Dioica) infusion!) Improve your vitality and get to know this amazing plant. Beginning on Monday March 20th- more info at the bottom of the article.
This wild plant (commonly known as a weed ) which grows abundantly in soil along rivers and also loves disturbed ground such as roadsides and vacant lots has hundreds of uses, culinary, art-based as well as medicinal. It’s a great way to begin a plant ally practice.
Stinging Nettle belongs to the Urticaceae family, generic name Urtica. There are two common species in our region U. Dioica and U. Urens. U. Urens name derives from the Latin verb “urere”, meaning “to burn,” a reference to the plant’s stinging hairs. The name “dioica” comes from the Greek for “two houses,” which refers to the male and female flowers that occur on separate plants (dioecious).
Some say the common name “nettle” comes from the Anglo-saxon word “Netel” which may come from the word “noedl”, meaning needle as in to prick.
Harvest carefully w/ intention following the Ethical Wildcrafting Guidelines, also known as Honorable Harvest. Nettles are quite abundant so you don’t need to worry too much about decimating a patch as long as you are careful. As its name indicates, stinging nettle stings! Some people like to wear gloves but I like to slow down and harvest every plant purposefully and meditatively. Approach the patch with care and remember to honor the plant before you take from it. What are you offering in this reciprocal exchange? In general you will harvest the top 4-8 inches of the fresh Spring growth, allowing the plant to continue to grow. If you are lucky you can get multiple harvests in the Spring. Remember to always leave lots behind. When harvesting nettles we need to be on the lookout for nesting caterpillars. If in the UK the Red Admiral butterfly lays its eggs on nettle leaves, so if you see a curled up leaf it’s a sign that there might be a caterpillar inside.
To reap the benefits of nettle for any of the therapeutic uses discussed below, it’s best that you consume it over a long period of time. The best way to take Nettle is in the form of a daily Nourishing Herbal Infusion (see method below)
Different parts of the plant possess different medicinal uses. The nettle leaf (which are the focus of this article) contain natural antihistamines, which enable it to reduce the symptoms caused by allergic reactions by inhibiting histamines. Leaves also contain flavonoids, compounds that help reduce inflammation in the body, as well as a multitude of vitamins and minerals. It may well be one of the most nourishing wild plants we have.
Nettle roots contain phenols, which are anti-inflammatory and can reduce swelling both on the skin and internally. We are not going to address harvesting the roots or seeds in this article.
Nettle is one of the most nutrient rich wild foods. A rich source of calcium, iron, magnesium, and other minerals and of high levels of vitamins C and A, they also contain more protein than other green vegetables (dried leaves are 25 percent protein!). What’s more, many of these nutrients act as antioxidants inside your body, defending your cells against damage from free radicals.
Nettle rebuilds adrenal glands (which excessive coffee drinkers/worry-worts/ or people feeling like their basic rights are one at a time being taken away over stress on a daily basis). As a general rule drink at least 1 cup more of herbal infusion daily than coffee!! Nettles build stamina and gosh knows we need them now more than ever!
Nettle strengthens the kidneys. In Chinese medicine, the Kidney (organ-meridian system) is considered the foundation for good health and vitality
Nettles are rich in Vit. K which is an anti-hemorrhage agent making Nettle an ally for people with anemia or malnutrition. They also strengthen the body after surgery/illness/ or periods of extreme stress.
Drinking Nettle infusion daily helps eliminate fatigue and exhaustion. A great herbal ally for people with CFS and other compromised immunity diseases. An ally in many chronic conditions include allergies and nerve inflammations (sciatica) Nettle improves body's resistance to pollens, molds, and environmental pollutants
Good for adults or children who have over-used antibiotics and tend to get sick easily.
Nettles are also an anti-rheumatic (Topically, fresh nettles have been used for arthritis as the stinging part brings blood to the affected area, a rubefacien), thereby increasing circulation and often relieving pain)
Nettle is also supportive for blood sugar balancing. Nettle can also help to regulate body metabolism and has been used for the entire endocrine system, from balancing the thyroid, strengthening adrenal function and restoring the reproductive organs. It works on blood sugar levels both directly and also indirectly as, by energizing us and increasing vitality, and reduces cravings.
Nettle keeps our hair skin looking and feeling healthy.
in summary as herbalist David Hoffman so aptly writes
”Nettle strengthens and support the whole body” which is the foundation for his famous quote to herbalists “When in doubt, choose nettle”
The use of nettle as a vegetable and folk remedy dates back to ancient times. It was mentioned by Hippocrates (ca. 460-370 BCE) and Theophrastus (ca. 371-287 BCE), by Dioscorides (40-90 CE) in Materia Medica, and by Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) in Naturalis Historia. The culinary possibilities of Nettle are endless, so many recipes. In general use Nettle as you would any cooked green. They cannot be eaten raw due to the sting but there are many ways to dull the sting, boiling, sautéing, blanching, drying, blenderizing etc. Swap the spinach for Nettle in almost any recipe.
Nettle is not just sustainable its a regenerative crop. It actually improves the environment in which it grows by helping to control erosion and preventing deadly landslides.
Nettle is not only healthy for us humans, but also a great source of nutrients for our crops! Gardeners have long used fermentations of nettle leaves to fertilize and protect crops. As nettles are high in nitrogen, they’re a great fertilizer for leafy veggies like kale, spinach, and chard.
Prune nettles and lay around larger plants as a valuable mulch.
Or, add to compost to speed up decomposition process. Mix with dry ingredients such as dry leaves, cardboard. (Do not include roots or seed heads.)
Nettles can also be used for beneficial insects as it attracts both ladybugs and aphids (ladybug food). Nettles are beloved by caterpillars of butterfly species. Use nettles to lure away aphids from nearby crops!
We have several medieval references and recommendations for nettles including one by German visionary, polymath and Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) who writes about Nettle in her book Physica;
“The nettle is very warm in its type. It is not good eaten raw, because of its harshness. But when it sprouts fresh from the earth, it is useful cooked as food for people, because it purges and cleans the stomach and removes the mucus from it.”
Nettle is also referenced by Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) in his writings on the doctrine of signatures. Paracelsus was one of the first scientists to introduce chemistry to medicine.
The English herbalist, physician, and botanist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) said nettle was “an herb so well known, that you may find them by the feeling in the darkest night,” likely referring to its stinging hairs. He recommended nettle to break up stones, stop bleeding, and increase urination, and for difficulty breathing, pleurisies, cough, and inflammation of the lungs.
Nettle featured prominently in British folk medicine where it was used as a spring tonic “to cleanse blood” of the impurities that were believed to cause clouded eyes, boils, pimples, and various types of sores, and it was eaten to relieve anemia, as a counterirritant for rheumatic conditions, and for nose bleeds, colds, coughs, consumption (tuberculosis), dandruff, diarrhea, dropsy (edema), ear infections, epilepsy, headaches, and heart trouble.
Nettle beer was a popular remedy for rheumatism during the Middle Ages. The plant tops were used as a rennet substitute in making cheese, and the leaves were wrapped around fruits to help them ripen.
Although likely introduced species from Europe, local Native American tribes found uses for both U. dioica and U. urens. They used the plants for food, medicine and for fiber. More recently, some Native American tribes and others have used nettles to relieve arthritis and rheumatism through the practice of urtication, wherein the afflicted areas are whipped with nettle branches (flagellation).
Sanctions on cotton (Gossypium sp) during the World Wars led to shortages so the Germany army switched to nettle fiber to make military uniforms. In the early 1940s approximately 1,236 acres of nettle were under cultivation in Austria and Germany, but unfortunately several nettle processing facilities were destroyed during World War II. More recently U. dioica cultivation has started up again in Germany.
Since at least the Bronze age, nettles have provided people with fibre for weaving cloth, linen, a sources of color, and paper making.
Nettles make such a strong fibre, that excavation of 2000 year-old tombs has unearthed clothing made from nettle, still intact. This speaks to the strength and power like hemp, but unlike help there is no legal issue with the cultivation of nettle. Thus, making it a viable and legal cash crop.
Nettles fibers are imbedded in folklore also, in the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Twelve Wild Swans”, the protective cloaks the princess made for her eleven brothers were spun from nettle fibers. Tasked by a mysterious fairy, she gathered nettle from graveyards at night- indicating that Nettle has the power to reach back through ancestral lines, to reweave family lineage and heal old wounds and break spells.
Nettles have been used for textiles at least since medieval times. Along with flax and hemp, nettle was the most important plant-based textile material in Europe because, unlike cotton, it grows even in northern climates. The fibres have a hollow core which means they can trap air inside thus creating a natural insulation. Nettle fiber also has built-in fire-retardant properties
The steps for processing nettle for textiles are similar to that of processing flax. The key is softening the nettle’s woody stalks in order to be able to extract the fibers within. Collect nettles and remove the leaves. (Once the nettle stalks have been soaked and dried, the stinging hairs are gone) Soak the nettle stalks (a process called retting) for at least one week to break down the cellulose surrounding the fibers so the fibers can be extracted. Dry the nettles out in the sun, or in a greenhouse. Break the dried-up stalks by hand to separate the fine fibers from the woody pith. Next you follow the same process as you would when spinning flax to further soften the fibers, to scutch and hackle (the fiber is pulled through various sized heckling combs, or hackles) Different sized heckling combs are used, progressing from coarser combs with only a few prongs or nails per inch, to finer combs. Finally the fiber is ready to spin into yarn.
Chop fresh nettles into bowl – chopping enables more surface area allows max color to extract into the water. Cover with boiling water to activate the dye extraction process. Leave overnight to allow water extraction to happen (8 – 12 hours). Next strain plant leaf out and keep the colored water. Add wet, premordanted fibre to the dye bath. Bring pot to simmer (if using animal fibres)/to boil (if using plant fibres) and keep there for 30 – 60 mins until desired depth of color has been achieved. For more saturated/deeper colors leave in overnight. Remove, rinse, wash (w/a ph neutral soap) rinse and air dry.
(Ref. Rebecca Desnos: Dyeing w/Nettles)
🌿Here is a fun video on paper making w/ Nettles
The Hidden Message
During these times Nettle asks us
To be aware
To be conscious
To be intentional
Nettle has long been associated with protection. This plant has a powerful, innate protective mechanism to keep invaders away. A great teacher of boundaries. The sting ( formic acid) awakens you, and asks you to slow down, reminding you to approach and harvest mindfully. The Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm suggests nettles as a protection against “flying venom” and “elf shot”!!
Herbalist, Susun Weed says, nettle “cuts loose old patterns and re-weaves connections.”
The Nourishing Herbal Infusion
How to prepare your nourishing herbal infusion
Use 1oz (30g) (2 handfuls) of dried plant matter (nettle in this case) in a quart jar. Fill the jar to the top with boiling water, put the lid on and let it steep for a minimum of four hours max 8 at room temperature. (Overnight is appropriate). When ready strain and squeeze out. Compost the herb. Drink the liquid, 2 cups daily. Drink at either room temperature iced or heated. Keep refrigerated.
NB once prepared the infusion lasts only 2 days.
Prepare infusions in quart canning jar with a tight lid to prevent the volatile essences and vitamins from escaping. Also, these jars are convenient to carry around with you.
Long steeping allow for the extraction of chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals. Steeping in a closed jar prevents the water soluble vitamins from escaping in the steam.
About the program
Click here if you’d like to sign up to join the 30 days of Nettle Challenge and to learn more about how working with plant allies can be beneficial for your total well-being.
You will commit to drinking Nettle infusion daily for 30 days beginning on March 20th, and receive daily Nettle inspiration, recipes, tidbits, activities and allyship by email. This is a herbal lifestyle program so there will be activities for your mind, body and spirit.
30 days for $30 and you will receive a free copy (PDF) of the The Art of Connecting with your Plant Ally (A Guide to a Deeper Connection guide.
To register for the program you can simply venmo me (@tonya-lemos) or click here for more info.
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I usually buy my herbs in bulk on line at https://www.herbco.com or JeansGreens.com- you'll need at least a pound but when in Brooklyn I love to visit http://www.sacredvibeshealing.com
Hello Tonya! I just came upon this today, and would love to join your challenge – where might I source dried nettle leaves here in NYC?