I first met my now good friend, stinging nettle, coming out of a tent one morning on the property I now call home. I was half-asleep and barefoot. Our first meeting did not go well. The stinging that began on the bottom of my foot crawled up around my ankle and burned for much of the morning.
I refused to believe it when I was told nettle grew all over the yard until I was taken by the hand, walked around the property (this time in mucking boots), and shown clump after clump of nettle. Oh, and I had such glorious plans for this yard! “Nettle will never do,” I exclaimed and grabbed a gardening book. Certainly there are ways to get rid of it.
Somewhere between the first and fourth article I decided getting rid of the nettle was a bad idea. Once I learned the medicinal properties of this plant I stopped calling it a weed and began referring to it as an herb. I spent time that season researching the plant – how to use it, what conditions to use it for, and where it was growing in the yard. I did not eat any that season. I admit it – I was scared. I remembered being excited about how good dandelion was for you. And eating it. And spitting it out. (If you love, or like, or can even tolerate dandelion, eat it! It's good for you.)
Nettle is used as a diuretic, which is helpful to people suffering from fluid retention as well as those prone to bladder infections and kidney stones. It works to maintain healthy bones and joints, and relieves pain from arthritis and gout. It is used to combat the symptoms of asthma, seasonal allergies, hay fever and hives. Nettle offers protection against neoplastic diseases (tumors), cardiovascular disorders and immune deficiency. The high level of the mineral boron in nettle is helpful for improving short term memory and elevating mood. It is also used for neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis.
Nettle is one of the best herbs for women. It is high in iron. It is good to use during a pregnancy because of its rich mineral content and vitamin K, which protects against excessive bleeding. Nettle is said to strengthen the fetus, ease labor pains, and increase milk production in breastfeeding mothers. Nettle is also recommended for relieving symptoms of PMS and as a restorative herb during menopause.
Even if you are unaffected by any of these conditions, the nutritive properties of nettle have made it a traditional spring tonic.
That's all well and good you may be thinking. But how do I eat it and, more importantly, what does it taste like? Nettle is delicious. Really. I like it best just steamed with garlic and salt. You can easily use it anywhere you would use spinach. I also like it mixed with lemon balm as a tea.
Be careful harvesting nettle. You can wear gloves or use your scissors to cut and place nettle in a basket. It will not kill you to touch nettle without protection, but your day of foraging will be a lot more enjoyable if you don't.
To use nettle you first need to neutralize the sting. If you are going to eat it fresh, simply blanch it before touching. If you are going to save it for an herbal tea, lay it out to air dry. It is perfectly safe to touch once dried. Store dried nettle in a glass jar and make this tea one cup at a time. Do not make a batch and store in the fridge to heat up through the day. It starts to taste like asparagus.
Don't get me wrong – I love asparagus. I'm just not a big fan of asparagus tea. I am sure there are many more ways to cook nettle and I would love to hear any ideas you have.
Nettle has been good to me. Not only do I appreciate the health benefits, but I also appreciate the first lesson I learned in the country: Don't judge a plant by its sting.