The common nettle, also known as stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is probably most known for its sharp, stinging small hairs which cause itchy bumps all over our skin at the slightest touch. However, this common weed makes a rather exquisite culinary vegetable and a potent medicinal herb. Nettle is a great source of calcium and vitamins A and K, three nutrients with impressive benefits on bone health and the immune, digestive and cardiovascular systems.
The plant has been traditionally used as a natural galactagogue to stimulate milk flow in nursing mothers. Stinging nettle extracts help control blood sugar levels in people suffering from type 2 diabetes. Moreover, the plant is an efficient natural anti-inflammatory used in the treatment of gout, rheumatism, arthritis and allergy symptoms. Herbal infusions are said to improve symptoms of respiratory tract infections, while regular consumption of the green has been found to have tonic, energizing properties.
For many people, stinging nettle is nothing more than an upsetting weed that simply refuses to go away. You can find it in gardens, fields, roadsides, meadows, on river banks, anywhere from Canada and the US to Europe, Asia and northern Africa. It thrives on animal waste and poultry waste in particular makes an ideal fertilizer for nettle plants. Abundant rainfall creates optimal conditions for the plant to thrive. Nevertheless, nettle is just as beneficial as it is annoying. It actually makes a great leafy vegetable for a vegetables garden. Stinging nettle not only makes a great companion for broccoli, tomatoes and basically every garden vegetable and increases soil fertility, but it also invites good garden insects to your little patch of land.
What does stinging nettle look like? Nettle is a tall, green plant that can reach 2 meters in height. It is best known for its stinging, serrated, pointy leaves which may cause a serious rash. Both nettle leaves and stems have small hairs that pierce the skin when touched and inject irritating chemicals such as histamine and formic acid which cause a highly unpleasant urticaria. But stinging nettle makes a delicious culinary vegetable and potent herb as well.
What does nettle taste and smell like? Cooked nettle has a slight cucumber flavor with a mushy, spinach texture and a sort of wild green, refreshing aroma. Young nettle, picked in early or mid-spring, is very tender and makes a great puree. Mashed nettle goes extremely well with polenta, garlic, baked potatoes or boiled eggs. Stinging nettle soup is refreshing and light, and the vegetable is also a good substitute for spinach in pies.
Traditional medical practices recommend eating nettle because it is a great tonic, rich in protein (25% of daily values) and vitamins A and K. According to popular beliefs eating stinging nettle in spring purifies the blood and helps the body recover after heavy wintertime foods. Picking nettle in autumn, when the plant has reached maturity is also an option. It can be cleaned, dried and used in herbal infusions.
Nettle is an herb with great health benefits. For instance, the plant contains prostaglandins, natural compounds with powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Stinging nettle tea or tincture appear to be highly effective in reducing pain associated with arthritis, rheumatism, hemorrhoids and kidney inflammation. Applying a nettle poultice is believed to help treat eczema.
Drinking nettle infusions regularly is said to be a great natural remedy for cough, help with nasal decongestion and treat dry sinuses. Nettle juice and tea make a great diuretic, help keep allergy symptoms under control and are said to reduce nosebleeds and other minor hemorrhages. Nettle appears to be beneficial for swollen hemorrhoids and anemia and helps regulate blood sugar levels in diabetes sufferers.
Believe it or not, the juice of the nettle plant calms itching and redness from nettle stings. Being a wonderful source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamins D and K, calcium, iron, magnesium and proteins, the leaves strengthen the immune system. The plant is also a natural diuretic and helps detoxify the body and purify blood.
Stinging nettle-based shampoos are said to be excellent against oily hair and dandruff due to the astringent properties of the plant. Last but not least, it is considered to be an efficient natural galactagogue and recommended alongside fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, vervain, alfalfa and anise to increase milk flow in nursing mothers. Also see benefits of fenugreek seeds.
Overall, stinging nettle makes a great diuretic, decongestant, anti-inflammatory, anti-anemic, galactagogue and detoxifying natural agent. It is also an excellent culinary vegetable, full of flavor and highly versatile. It can even be added to pizza or ravioli. However, some people may experience mild stomach pain, sweating and skin rash when exposed to the plant, meaning it might be best they avoid consumption.
Although it is relatively safe for consumption, if you are under medication of any sort, it might be best to consult with your doctor to see if nettle can interact with the medication you are being prescribed. I admit I am a big fan of both nettle puree and nettle tea, which I find refreshing and soothing. To get rid of the sting, I either blanch or dry my nettle, depending on what I plan on doing with it.