Urtica dioica or stinging nettles is a superfood or a weed depending on your perspective. Learn how to unlock its concentrated nutrition here and expand the ways you bring this nutritional powerhouse to the table or to your herbal apothecary.
This week I learned that there are people selling stinging nettles at farmers markets. Yes, making money on something that other people curse, and pull out of their gardens, and toss in the compost pile. (FYI, stinging nettle is a great compost activator, too.) Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are one of the most nutritious and medicinal “weeds” growing in the temperate zone. If you have stinging nettles growing it your garden, it’s a sign that your soil is rich in nitrogen with high organic matter.
Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are superfoods
While you do need gloves to avoid the sting, when harvesting, that should not deter you from harvesting them. Once the nettles (Urtica dioica) are either dried or blanched the sting is harmless.
Urtica dioica is a significant source of vitamin C, D, and A. They’re 20% minerals including calcium, silicon, potassium, chromium, phosphorous, magnesium, and zinc. It is also high in antioxidants like quercetin, which helps the body absorb zinc and other minerals. Nettles are even more nutritious than spinach.
When the nettles are just 4 to 8 inches tall use them in the kitchen as a vegetable. They taste like spinach and can be used in many of the same ways as you would use spinach. Add them to pizza, lasagna, spanakopita or even soup. Eat them as a vegetable side, with a twist of lemon and butter.
Here’s how to prepare them as a vegetable
Wearing rubber gloves, swish the 5 to 8 inch plant tops through a sink of cold water to remove dirt and any insects. Boil a 2 quart pot, half full of water — leave room for the nettles.
Blanch the nettles to remove the sting
Place the washed nettles into the pot for 1 to 2 minutes until the nettles turn bright green. Remove the nettles from the pot to a colander. Run cold water over the nettles to cool quickly and stop the cooking. At this point nettles can be placed in freezer bags and frozen for future use. Or heat them again for dinner. They hold their shape better than spinach. Chop into 1/2 inch pieces to use as a vegetable or serve them in spears like asparagus.
They also blend well with soft cheeses, nuts, and chicken dishes. You can use them to make pesto or even spinach dip. Once they are blanched they are very versatile in the kitchen.
Stinging Nettle leaves for tea
When the Urtica dioica plants get taller, the stem becomes more fibrous and while the leaves can still be used as a vegetable, the stinging hairs are also getting coarser At this point I switch to using stinging nettles medicinally. The Urtica dioica leaves can be dried and used for nourishing herbal infusions or tea. Once dried they can be powdered and added to smoothies as a green supplement. There is no need to blanch the nettles if you plan to dry them for tea. Drying also removes the sting.
Make NETTLE TEA 3 WAYS
Stinging Nettles for Seasonal Allergies
Urtica dioica leaves are also rich in natural histamine. The histamine in nettles binds to the histamine receptors in your body, preventing serious histamine reactions during allergy season. Use fresh nettles to make an “antihistamine” tincture for seasonal allergies. I add bee pollen to my fresh stinging nettle tincture and we use it year round, not just for sinus allergies, but also for moderate food allergy reactions. Mr. Joybilee finds that it works faster and more reliably than his over the counter allergy meds like Benadryl.
Once the summer comes and the nettles are coarser, don’t pull out the stinging nettle completely. I have an out of the way patch of stinging nettles that I allow to grow near my garden. When the weather turns cooler in August or September, your patch of stinging nettle will produce those baby stinging nettle plants again, from the root runners. Use these as a vegetable or even make more allergy tincture for the winter from these baby stinging nettles.
Stinging Nettles for Men’s Health
Then in the Fall harvest the roots of stinging nettle to support men’s health. Stinging nettle root is used widely in Europe to treat BPH and for reducing enlarged prostate, prostate cancer prevention, and helping urination in older men.
Learn how to make a stinging nettle root extract two ways in this post:
Even the Nettle Seeds are beneficial
Only the female stinging nettles produce seed. Urtica dioica seeds are consider adaptogenic and restorative, especially for people whose get up and go has gotten up and left. They are especially active on the kidneys, liver (source , source) and adrenals supporting the body’s ability to heal and restore these vital organs.
To harvest the seeds, snip the top quarter to a third of seed plants when the seeds are immature or wait until half the seed is turning beige. This is when the energy of the plant is in the seeds and many of the therapeutic benefits have moved through the plant tissue to the seeds. Dry the seeds at room temperature or in a dehydrator over low heat. Use 1 teaspoon of seed a day for energy. Add them to smoothies. Put them in a shaker and sprinkle on food. Seeds should be chewed well to release their benefits.
How to Grow Stinging Nettles
To get a stinging nettle patch started in your garden, you’ll need nitrogen rich soil. The plant thrives in abandoned farm yards, and along the sides of creeks. If you don’t have rich soil, try adding some composted manure from an organic farm that has stinging nettle already growing. The compost might have viable seeds already in it, waiting to germinate.
Nettles are dioecious, meaning that the plants are either male or female. Both male and female plants must be grown if you want to produce seed. Only the female plants produce seed. Nettle can also be grown from root runners.
Learn more about using garden weeds and herbs for health and wellness from my Book
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My book Homegrown Healing From Seed to Apothecary will help you grow healing herbs in your own garden. Focusing on the easiest plants for beginners to grow, Homegrown Healing From Seed to Apothecary covers 30 plants, recommended by professional herbalists, that can be grown in the temperate zone. Initial garden preparation, garden design and harvesting tips lead the novice herbalist into early success. Choose which herbs to grow, learn how to use these herbs for your family’s health and wellness using the guidance in my book. You can find out more about this useful guide to growing more herbs and using them strategically here.