Backyard Medicine : NETTLES

Botanical Name : Urtica Dioica

Family: Urticaceae

Parts used: young leaves, seeds, root

Energetics : cooling, drying

The nettle plant has been an ally of mine since I was a little girl. My mom and my grandmother did not use it much in tea, or in any herbal preparation, but they made sure we got enough of it in the form of delicious food. Spring was a time for foraging in our family and I still get exited by the patches of green that grow by the road or between the trees in the woods. Young nettles and docks, fragrant young thyme , young sorrel and dandelion leaves - the Earth is generous , if we only look around.
 Nettles have been used for food and medicine for thousand of years. The Ancient Greeks and Romans used to cultivate it and grow it for food and for its fiber. The nettle plant has many fine hairs on its stem and leaves, which can release some irritating chemicals in the body when it touches bear skin. This brings blood to the affected area and can relieve pain and inflammation. The Romans new about this property of nettles and used to carry seeds with them when they conquered new lands, in order to be able to cultivate it. Mrs. Grieve cites the antiquary Camden in her book " A modern Herbal: Vol II" : " The soldiers (Roman) brought some of the Nettle seed with them, and sowed it there for their use to rub, and chafe , their limbs, when through extreme cold they should be stiff or benumbed, having been told that the climate of Britain was so cold that it was not to be endured."
This practice is known as urtication, and is very useful for pain due to arthritis. I have personal experience with this practice thanks to my grandmother. When I was a girl , I went through a very painful growth spurt. My feet and legs were affected the worst, to the point where it was very painful to walk. My grandmother used urtication to help me ,and the relieve was very welcome. Fortunately, my body does not react strongly to the sting of nettles and I did not endure severe blistering or pain. To this day. I still pick nettles bear handed. I welcome the sting, hoping to avoid arthritic pain later in life.
 The nettle plant can be a delicious food, but it is also a potent medicine. I think its power hides in the fact that it is highly nutritious. If you look into any herbal book , you will find multiple uses for nettles. It is good for almost any part of the body. People often mistrust this, but we have to remember that our body is an uniquely connected system , and not one organ functions alone, independently from the rest. When you nourish your body, the whole is affected, hence the whole is improved. We just have to look beyond what western medicine has thought us, look beyond symptoms and single constituents.
 The nettle plant is rich in many minerals and is one of the perfect way to get much needed iron and calcium during pregnancy. I like to combine it with red raspberry leaf and peppermint for a delicious and refreshing beverage. Due to its high content of minerals, nettles can also be useful in addressing osteoporosis, menstrual cramps and leg cramps. It can also be useful for "growing pains" in children, or for aching joints in older people.
 One of the easiest ways to get more nettles in your body year round is to prepare a nourishing infusion. A nourishing infusion is a strong tea made by taking an ounce of dried herb and pouring a quart of hot water over it. Steep for at least four hours and drink throughout the day as a refreshing beverage.
 Nettle is a mild diuretic and can be used to relieve edema and other congested fluids in the body. Some people can be affected more by this property of nettles and should use the plant in moderation.

 Other popular uses for nettles include:

  • Nettle Seed Tincture - very nourishing to the kidneys. It has a very specific action on this organ and can be used in small doses to strengthen and improve function.
  • Nettle Root Tincture or Decoction - used for prostate issues. 
  • Freeze Dried Nettle Leaves - used for the treatment of seasonal allergies.
The nettle plant is a powerful antioxidant and studies have shown that, taken internally, it can lower inflammatory markers in the blood. Herbalist Johnathan Treasure often uses it in a protective protocol for patients undergoing chemotherapy, in order to reduce organ damage done by the drugs.

Now you can see why nettle is a great plant ally to have . Still, my favorite way to enjoy this plant is in a delicious recipe in spring time, when my body is craving the green vitality and renewed energy of the earth. After all, Food Is Medicine, and a powerful one at that.