On my way to school one morning in Vancouver, cutting through a back alley, I noticed them. The unruliest crop of nettles I had ever seen. Like green gargoyles they protected a black iron fence which separated the alley from an immaculate green lawn. “Ah, ha, another use for nettles,” I thought. Cheaper than feeding a watch dog, no worrying about neighbours complaining about barking and no unsightly brown spots sprouting the sprawling green grass. The bite of nettles would stop any trespasser from popping over the fence.
The Romans found medicine in nettle’s bite. In their cute military skirts or wrapped in bed sheet togas, they enthusiastically flailed aching joints with nettles. This calmed the pain of arthritis. Or perhaps nettles sting is worse than the chronic ache and they were distracted by the blossoming red rash. In our time, herbs in this manner are called rubefacients. However today, rubefacients are usually administered as a poultice or ointment and without the drama of self-flagellation. Two popular ones are cayenne pepper and horseradish.
In my practice, most people are given nettles as part of their tea. However, it is not the tough, biting mature nettles that I use; it is the young, bright green, tender shoots. Collecting the young nettles shoots still requires gloves and long sleeves, but once dried the sting is gone.
Steaming the young shoots, like spinach, also deactivated the bite. Steamed nettles with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese is delicious and an intense experience of chlorophyll. If you do get stung will collecting nettles, a spit poultice of plantain or yellow doc leaves will relieve it.
Dried nettles make a nourishing and cleansing tea. Nettles are high in iron, Vitamin C, K, zinc, selenium, foliate, calcium, beta-carotene, potassium and more. But best of all, they taste good as a tea and are a cheap and easily accessible multi-vitamin with guaranteed bioavailability.
Nettle clears up skin. It gently cleanses the body, easing the skin’s role in removing toxins from the body. This in turn is healing to eczema, psoriasis and acne. If you don’t have a skin condition, Nettles will give your skin a healthy glow and helps make you hair shiny. Not to mention it strengthens nails.
The detoxifying effect of Nettles also helps relieve chronic muscle and arthritic pain. It is a traditional remedy for gout.
Nettles are considered a kidney tonic. Drinking nettle tea, improves urine flow while reducing frequency and having to get up in the night. This effect is very useful in relieving swollen prostates. The root of nettles are the key plant part here.
Nettles will draw excess fluids from other parts of the body reducing bloating and water retention. For this reason it is essential in PMS and weight loss teas.
The vitamin K content reduces heavy flow.
Nettles have much to offer pregnant women. First Nations drank nettles during pregnancy as a deeply nourishing tea. Taken before labour, nettles reduce bleeding. Drinking the tea while nursing enriches breast milk.
Nettles are natural anti-histamines and bring relief to those suffering with hay fever. The best way to take nettles to relieve allergies is in freeze-dried in capsules. Getting the freeze dried nettles in capsules is a tricky undertaking. But it works for 70% of folks without drowsiness or suppressing the immune system.
The great Tibetan yogi Milarepa, while spending years in solitary meditative retreat in caves scattered through the Himalayans, lived for many years on nettle soup as his only source of nutrient. Nettles strengthened his body and mind during his quest for enlightenment. As a matter of fact, he ate so many nettles; Tibetan artists render him with a green twinge to his skin.
Its hard not love Nettles once you get beyond their prickly external nature. Once understanding the in workings of this weed with its deep, sprawling roots, you find sweet nourishment.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.