Stinging nettles do sting.

My first encounter with nettles was not pleasant, and at the time, I didn’t know enough to look for lamb’s quarter or dock to soothe the nettle’s sharp bite.  Instead, I chose to run screaming back to camp, seeking my mother’s aid to treat the flaming red blisters on my legs.

Despite my first meeting with nettles, I have grown to love their amazing nutritional and healing properties.  They are one of the few herbs that I can recommend to almost anyone–young, old, weak, strong, nursing mothers and athletes.  To date, I  haven’t come up with someone that can’t benefit from nettles.

A bit of nettle history

Nettles have a long history of medicinal use–dating back to the bronze age. Native Americans used them to stop bleeding after child birth, Victorian women used nettle tinctures to thicken their hair.  Soups were used to build strength and stamina–the list is long as you will see below.  Nettles grow wild across Europe, America and parts of Canada. Many people, armed with gloves, harvest them fresh, but for ease (possibly I’m just lazy) I get my nettles dried and in bulk unless a local grower has some fresh available.   I use them regularly for my family, self and my clients.  All parts of the nettle plant have medicinal properties earning them a place of honor in my kitchen.

Western uses and nutritional profile

Long inhale and go….  Asthma, chronic cough, any lung disorder, hives, shingles, eczema, diabetes, uterine bleeding, chronic nose bleeds, allergies, gout, heart failure, spasms urinary and kidney stones, urinary tract infections,  strengthen hair, heal wounds, replenishing after surgery, fluid retention, rheumatism, arthritis,  reduce edema and bloating, build teeth and bones, balance mood swings, treat hot flashes, PMS, cancers, treat goiter, regulate the adrenals and the thyroid.  Whew.

Nutritionally, 1 cup of stewed or blanched nettles has a mere 36 calories, 6.5  g of carbs, 2.5 g of protein and no fat.  It’s the mineral scape that makes nettle’s magic.  They are an excellent source of iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A. Nearly three times the daily RDA of vitamin A can be found in 1 cup of nettles and they are fantastic source of Vitamin K which is essential for proper blood clotting and bone health.

Eastern energetics of nettles

Time to go East and look at nettle’s energetics–their post metabolic nature. Nettles have a sweet, salty flavor.  They cool the body and dry excess damp conditions.  They astringe, nourish, dissolve masses, restore and stabilize.  Let me explain further what nettles do–

Strengthen and heals the Lungs, nourishes the skin and treats eczema–Nettles rock when it comes to allergies, asthma, skin and lung issues.  They are wonderful at moving congestion out of the lungs–helping you to expectorate.  They gently nourish the tissue of the lungs and relieve coughing and wheezing. I recommend those with allergies start drinking nettles regularly before allergies hit.  If you always have allergies…don’t stop drinking them. Nettles effect on Blood, Fluids and Lungs mean they are fantastic for any skin condition.  Eat them, drink them, and use them topically as a wash on eczema, hives or shingles.

Detoxifies the body, reduces tumors and dissolves stones–Nettles help to flush and alkalize the body of toxins from environmental chemicals and food toxins (preservatives, additives, poisons, etc.).  Often these toxins are stored in the body in form of tumors and stones.  Nettle seeds especially nourish the endocrine system and is an antidote to poison.

Drains fluids, promotes urination, astringes, dries damp conditions and reduces infection-Remember stabilize and astringe?  Nettles energetically drain areas where moisture has accumulated in the body inappropriately.  Areas of damp congestion like bloating, gout and edema if left unchecked will continue to pool and can be come toxic–at the same time, nettles are wise enough to stop diarrhea and excess bleeding.  By moving the excess fluid out through urination (diuretic), nettles help reduce infection and allow the body to break down stones.  Nettles are wonderful at clearing sinus congestion.

Builds Blood, enriches Liver and Kidney Yin–From a Chinese medicine view, Blood is more than the red stuff in your veins.  Blood nourishes the tissues and flesh, roots the Shen (anchors the spirit) and allows for a regular menstrual flow in women–to name just a few of its projects.  Nettles specifically build Blood and Yin.  Yin (the opposite of yang) is the quiet, cooling, moistening fluids and nature in the body.  When Liver and Kidney Yin are depleted we will see symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, dry skin, dull hair and brittle nails.  Hot flashes?  That’s a pattern of Liver and Kidney Yin deficiency that nettles treat.

Stops discharge, bleeding and hemorrhage–Discharges and excess loss like diarrhea and leucorrhea are reduced by nettle usage. Nettles are excellent at stopping blood loss–doesn’t matter what the cause is–because of nettles high levels of vitamin K and the astringing nature, they will help slow and stop bleeding of any type.  Nosebleeds, heavy menstrual flows, postpartum….any type. Check with your healthcare provider if you are on blood clotting or thinning medicines before taking nettles.

Nettles help regulate the metabolism and nourishes connective tissues–Blood and Liver Yin deficiency often appear as loss of stamina, tiredness in evening, dizziness and metabolic and hepatic disorders. This may appear as hypoglycemia, diabetes, rickets, hives, shingles and anemia, adrenal deficiencies and chronic weakness.

Promotes lactation and replenishes blood after giving birth-When Blood and Yin are adequate and flourishing, mother’s milk will flow easily and abundantly.  Nettles are a very effective way to nourish breast milk and supplying vital minerals to replenish mom after childbirth. Nettles balance estrogen, so they benefit women’s cycles at all stages of life.

Want gorgeous hair and strong nails? Use nettles–Hair and nails are  the ‘odds and ends’ of Blood and Yin.  In other words, nail and hair health is dependent on flourishing and abundant yin and blood… Nettles to the rescue.  But some of the hair loss is coming from thyroid or adrenal dysfunction?  Falls into the realm of yin and blood in Chinese medicine again.

How to use nettles

Fresh juice made from the whole plant is the most potent.  However, you must to have access to the fresh plant, which is at its peak in March…and you will need some serious gloves. The freeze dried herb as an infusion or tincture is a close second.  I buy my nettles dried…allowing me to use it as teas, in seasonings or soups or as tinctures.

A few ideas of how to start sprinkling nettles into your diet.

  • Nettle tea-straight up or with flare.
  • Nettle and Herbs Goat Cheese-Mix dried 1 T. dried Italian herbs (rosemary, sage, etc.) with 1 T. dried nettles.  Mix herbs into 3-4 oz of soft goat or sheep’s cheese for a flavorful spread.
  • Blend in a 1/2  cup of dried nettle leaf into vegetable soup while it’s cooking.
  • Use leftover nettle leaves from teas to fertilize your garden and enrich compost–your garden will thank you, and return the favor.

Be well!