Welcome back to The Naturopathic Kitchen. As always, our efforts are centered on introducing ways to bring new, fun, and healthy foods into our home kitchens. Today we will take a closer look at a delightful green with a scary sounding name – stinging nettles!
Stinging Nettle 101
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is commonly called “nettle.” In modern times, stinging nettle is often considered a nuisance weed, popping up in gardens, flowerbeds, and yards every spring. However, stinging nettle has a rich history of varied uses across many cultures. Chief among the oldest uses of stinging nettles is as a fiber for fabric, sail cloth, cordage and fishing nets. In Denmark, burial shrouds made of stinging nettles date back to the Bronze age some 4000 plus years ago.1 Similarly, stinging nettle was used by Europeans and Native Americans as material for sailcloth, sack material, cordage, and fishing nets.1 The cloth produced from stinging nettle is called “nettle cloth” with a silken, linen-like quality.2 During wartime, raw textile material shortages were quite common. German military uniforms worn during World War I were 85% nettle fibers.1 The fibers of the nettle plants were not the only part used in textile production. Decoctions of the nettle plant’s rich chlorophyll are used to produce green dye used for clothing as well as a food coloring agent.1
Stinging nettle has also been traditionally used as food for livestock. In fact today, stinging nettle is often fed to chickens to increase egg productivity.3 It is also used as a source of vegetarian rennet during the cheese making process and is still included in Passover herbs. Nettle is a very popular wild edible plant in some developing countries and contributes to both community food security and in some cases, the local economy.4 Nettle is often used in curries, soups, and vegetable dishes as well as an additive to breads and pastas. In Georgia, a former member of the Soviet Republic, boiled nettle with walnuts is a common meal.
From the leaves to the seeds, stinging nettle plants have been used medicinally throughout history. Nettle leaves have traditionally been used for scurvy, anemia, arthritis, seasonal allergies, wound healing, and general fatigue, and as a diuretic and to stimulate pancreatic secretion.4 Stinging nettle tea has been used historically as a cleansing spring tonic and blood purifier. The juice of nettle leaf has been used as a hair rinse to control dandruff and to stimulate hair growth.1 Among the oldest medicinal uses of stinging nettle is in the process of urtication. Urtication involves flogging the skin with a frond of a fresh nettle, allowing the tiny hairs or trichomes to pierce the skin. The trichomes are tiny, hair-like projections that cover the leaves and the stem of the plant. They have a bulbous tip that breaks off when touched, revealing needle-like tubes that pierce the skin and inject their serum of acetylcholine, formic acid, histamine, and serotonin resulting in an itchy, burning red rash that can last for half a day.5 This practice has been documented by many cultures and has been in use for thousands of years. Urtication was prescribed for a variety of maladies from chronic rheumatism, lethargy, coma and even for infectious diseases such as typhus and cholera.1 Additional uses of nettle have included soaking the stems and leaves in water then applying the water as an organic/natural pesticide to plants that are infected with mites or aphids. Nutrient-rich nettle also helps to restore the vitamin and mineral content of soil used for growing crops which can help enhance the vitality of the plants. It also helps to speed along the composting process.
Where do stinging nettles come from? Where can I find it?
Nettle is native to a large region spanning northern Africa, Europe, and Asia but has been found widespread across the Western world as well from northern Mexico to northern Canada for hundreds of years.3 Nettles are reported to be among the tastiest cooked greens with a flavor similar to spinach but a bit sweeter. Nettle is a good source of several vitamins and minerals including vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, and calcium as well as a balanced source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. 3
Fresh nettle can be difficult to find commercially; however, you may be able to find them at farmers markets, local food co-ops, or online. Also, they grow wild in abundance, and the tender young tops can be gathered for free, particularly during the early spring months. If foraging for nettle though, be sure to wear gloves to avoid the “sting!” It is important to note that once dried, wilted or cooked, the trichomes become denatured and are no longer capable of stinging.3 Fresh nettles can be boiled, steamed, stir-fried and consumed as a standalone vegetable or they can be added to any number of savory dishes including baked goods.
How do stinging nettles help my health?
Stinging nettle has long been recognized for its medicinal qualities. Hippocrates utilized 61 different remedies that contained nettle.1 Nettle is an extremely valuable medical herb that is often used in the spring months as a gentle detoxifying agent.6 Among the most recognized benefits of nettle is its benefit for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), commonly known as an enlarged prostate.7 There have been multiple studies examining the effects of nettle on the prostate and all produced favorable results in terms of symptom reduction as well as safety when compared to placebo.8,9,10
Nettle has a significant research profile as a treatment for allergies and allergic rhinitis.11 Portland, Oregon based National College of Naturopathic Medicine (now National University of Naturopathic Medicine) published a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized study examining the use of freeze-dried nettle leaf for treatment of hay fever, asthma, and seasonal allergies found that the freeze-dried preparation was rated higher than placebo in relieving symptoms after just one week’s time.12
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is a debilitating and painful condition impacting the lives of millions of Americans.13 Nettles can also help alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis and ease joint pain.7 Studies also show that consuming nettle can reduce the need for NSAID type pain medication by producing a synergistic effect.14
What medical conditions/symptoms are stinging nettles used for?
- Makes chemotherapy more effective
- Potent anti-inflammatory
- Modulates blood pressure
- Strong antioxidant
- Antiulcer activity
- Broad Spectrum antibacterial
- Benefits cardiovascular health
When should stinging nettles be avoided?
Outside of outright allergy or sensitivity to the plant itself, nettle is very safe and has been consumed for thousands of years with no issues. However, while nutrient-rich dried nettle and nettle infusions are often recommended as a nourishing tonic during pregnancy, fresh nettle has been reported to have stimulatory action on the uterus and should be avoided. 15
Let’s try out stinging nettles with these delicious and nutritious recipes!
Stinging Nettle Pesto
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 lb. stinging nettles
1/4 c fresh mint leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c pine nuts, toasted
2 T lemon juice
1/3 c olive oil
1/4 c firmly packed grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (can omit for vegan pesto)
Fill a large pot halfway full with water. Add 1/4 cup salt and bring to a boil. Fill a sink or a large bowl with cold water. Using gloves or tongs, submerge the nettles in the water and let them sit for 5 minutes. Remove the nettles and discard the water. Wearing rubber gloves, pull the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Put the nettles in the boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain and spread the nettles on a baking sheet. Let cool completely. Squeeze out as much of the water as possible and coarsely chop. Place the nettles in the bowl of a food processor with the mint, garlic, pine nuts, and lemon juice. Process until the mixture has formed a paste. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Thank you to SplendidTable.org for this wonderful recipe!
Chicken Nettle Soup
6-7 c bone broth
3 large handfuls of cubed or shredded chicken
4 T grass fed butter (or substitute with olive oil)
1 large onion, diced
4-6 large carrots, diced
2 large ribs of celery, diced
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 c dried nettle
Fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped for garnish
Fresh scallion, chopped for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
- Add the butter to a pot and swirl around the bottom until it foams
- Add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery and sauté for 5 minutes on med heat
- Add chicken and cook for one minute
- Season with freshly cracked black pepper and sea
- Add the bone broth and dried nettles to the pot and turn up the heat until the soup begins to simmer
- Turn the heat down and gently simmer for 10-12 minutes until the carrots are fork tender
- Serve and garnish with fresh parsley and scallions
Thank you to holistichelathherbalist.com for this tasty recipe!
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