on potting nettles

To the amazement of many a guest, one of my most exuberant potted plants was a beautiful and sometimes enormous nettle. The past tense is because I don’t have potted plants at the moment… what I do have is access to clean and organic nettle to harvest as much as I want.

a very permaculture plant in my former balcony… good for teas, to wake up, as greens, medicinal, and to fend off unwanted guests!

And there seems to be some chemistry explaining why I intuitively like my daily dose of this nutty-flavoured, filling and pleasant green:

“Both raw and cooked leaves of nettles were found to be rich sources of macronutrients and essential elements and may be used as alternatives to commercially available nutrient supplements.”

There you have it. Instead of paying good money for some highly-processed, who-knows-how-polluting, dietary scam, you can simply get out, harvest some leaves of this very abundant plant (or some of its relatives, if outside of Europe, Asia, or North America), and get your health-booster. After some training, it is very easy to harvest and eat your nettle leaves as you go. They’ve been indeed incredibly nourishing for me on trips where I ran out of bourbon biscuits.  Of course, scissors and gloves are a perfectly good option (for the harvesting, not as a biscuit substitute).

I like them raw the best—mmm nettle pesto!—, but they’re also delicious cooked—stir-fried, added last-minute to rice or pasta, in soups, stews…  Mature nettle leaves have up to 25% protein, which is very high for a leaf, hence their hunger-stilling properties. They are also very rich in iron, making them all the better for those with low or no intake of animal-based foods. However, most sources warn that only young leaves—that is, of plants that are not yet flowering or setting seed—should be used because older leaves develop cystoliths which act as an irritant to the kidneys. In my experience, if you frequently harvest the tops, you can keep the plants—or at least the stems that are being harvested—producing young leaves. You can see this in the picture above, which was taken late September.

And beside being simply good food, they have a very long history as a medicinal herb. I mainly use the leaf tea—fresh or dried—as a general tonic and blood purifier, and to counter chronic anemia. It stimulates the metabolism, and has been extensively used as an antiasthmatic and to strengthen the respiratory system. Also very soothing for the stomach and gut, delicious first thing in the morning. It’s one of the favoured plants for de-toxifying, and it’s believed to improve the function of the liver, the gallbladder and the pancreas. Likewise, it’s good against mouth- and throat infections, for which one can simply use the tea as a mouthwash.

free nettle in the wild… at Leewood Gardens

It also makes a superb hair tonic—it’s recommended to apply it several times per week, masage it deep into the scalp and leave it unrinsed, at least for a few hours. It’s even said it prevents hair loss!

Of course, nettle is a powerful anti-oxidant. But hey, most things nowadays seem to be. In that vein—ha!—, it’s been suggested that it lowers blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and may help prevent and treat diabetes.

All in all—the list goes on—a powerful all-rounder. I carry a bag of dried leaves with me, especially in my nomadic forays into cities, where one is never sure if there is going to be any wild nettle. Or any potted one, for that matter. And why, you may ask, did I pot a nettle? Well, the closest place to harvest was a park, criss-crossed by train- and highway-bridges. And teeming with dog-owners. To be sure that I wasn’t taking an extra dose of heavy metals from the vehicles, or pharmaceuticals from the dogs—or from any human pisser—I transplanted a good-looking plant to a pot, and kept it with me for almost a decade. We had a great relationship, and it was a fabulous conversation piece.

And, again, this is only pertaining the leaves! I only recently discovered the amazing properties of seeds and roots. But that’ll be in the nextle installement…

A very extensive resource on nettle.

PFAF‘s nettle page.

Another nettle resource with lots of studies, some of which confirm some of the benefits listed above.

And another very informative nettle page—with even more studies—from the very nicely named UMM.

And my beloved small herbals:

Unsere Heilkräuter, by Ursula Stump

Hausapotheke, by Pater Simon