Ah, nostalgia…sweet sweltering Kansas summers and stinging nettle! I don’t know how but I always found the giant patch of stinging nettle. As we walked down to the creek bed my friends missed it but it always got me. Imagine my surprise when I realized what a wonderful herb it is. I can’t help but wonder what my young self would think if I told her that I’d someday be drinking it daily. Forget swallowing a bunch of daily vitamins, I’ll just drink a nettle infusion.
Nettle, also known as stinging nettle is a wild “weed” that is probably best known for its stinging effect. Nettle’s leaves are covered with small spikes that release formic acid that will cause a very annoying but mild, skin reaction when it comes in contact with skin. It grows in large patches and will be anywhere from 5-8 feet tall.
Where Does Nettle Grow?
Stinging nettle loves soil with good moisture. You’ll often find it growing throughout North America, alongside streams, rivers, and creeks. It loves fertile soil full of organic matter and does well in full sun or partial shade. You don’t have to find a body of water to find nettle growing. My father made an accidental permaculture pile with old logs and some prairie hay bales that quickly became a giant patch of nettle. Let me tell you, I was one happy girl when I realized I didn’t have to go to the creek to get my nettle anymore!
How to Grow Nettle
It is easy to grow nettle on your land if you don’t want to hunt it down each time you need it. If you are going to plant nettle I recommend choosing a place where you or your family won’t easily rub up against it. As I said before nettle likes a fertile moist soil in a sunny location but partial shade will do. It grows well from runners that can be gathered in the early spring or fall. You can also grow nettle from seeds. You can purchase seeds or you can gather them from a wild patch you have found while out and about.
To gather the nettle seeds simply visit the patch in the early fall with a jar or paper bag in hand. The seeds are ready if they are brown. Tip the top of the plant into your container of choice and give it a shake and or rub the seeds into the container. Don’t forget your gloves, remember it is stinging nettle.
Once you have the seeds head home and spread them where you want your patch to grow. Rake them into the area and cover them with some mulch. Your mulch can be as simple as some leaves that are just lying around the yard or you can use straw or hay. Next spring you should find yourself with a nice nettle patch.
You can also simply transplant some nettle plants to your yard in the fall. Cut back the nettle to about 10 inches tall and dig up the plant. Take it home and transplant it in the area you would like your patch. Mulch it well, remember nettle likes soil fertile with organic matter.
How to Harvest Nettle
Harvesting nettle is a pretty easy task. Harvest nettle starting in the spring. For culinary uses, it’s best to harvest early when the leaves are young. Usually, the best harvest is in May through June. Harvesting for medicinal purposes is done up until the flower tops bloom. Wear long sleeves and gloves when harvesting your nettle because it will sting you when it comes in contact with skin. You also need a pair of garden shears to help cut the plant. Harvest when it’s at least a foot tall and cut about 2-3 inches above the ground, right above where a group of leaves branch off.
How to Preserve and Store Nettle
After you have harvested your nettle you’ll want to preserve it in some way or another if you are not using it right away. You can dry or freeze nettle if you don’t use it right away.
Dry nettle by hang drying or through dehydration. To hang dry nettle, carefully tie the stems together in bundles of about 5-6 plants and hang them in a dry area out of direct sunlight. Leave them to hang until they are crispy but still a good green color. To dehydrate nettle you can lay the stems and the leaves on the dehydrator or you can separate the leaves from stems and dehydrate that way. Dehydrate on the lowest setting of your machine.
After your nettle is dry, store it in an airtight, glass container, out of direct sunlight. Store it in larger pieces, keeping the stems and leaves together as much as possible to help it retain its flavor. I don’t always do this and it still tastes good for infusions.
Nettle can also be stored in the freezer. To freeze your nettle you’ll rinse it first. You’ll then want to blanch the nettle. Do this by boiling or steaming the nettle for two minutes and then soak it in ice water for two minutes. After this remove as much of the water as you can from the nettle by squishing, squeezing and draining it. You can then place it in a freezer bag and toss it in the freezer for storage.
How to Buy Nettle
You can buy dried nettle leaves along with seeds, roots and powdered versions anywhere you get your bulk herbs. These are a great way to start using nettle in a daily infusion until you can grow your own or if you run out over a long winter.
Culinary Uses of Nettle
Stinging nettle may not come to mind when you think about cooking but it should! It is a nutritional powerhouse. Nettle contains calcium that is easily absorbed by the body unlike most over the counter supplements. Nettle also includes vitamin C, iron, protein, dietary fiber and other minerals. Nettle is great for building healthy bones, joints, and skin.
Once nettle is steamed the spikes no longer have their sting and it becomes a healthy edible plant. You can throw it in sautes, soups, and broths. You can also cook it in just the drippings leftover from rinsing it. Cover and cook for about twenty minutes in just the water from rinsing it. Then serve with vinegar and pepper or eat plain. You can throw your frozen nettle into a smoothie for some extra green power! Nettle can be used pretty much anywhere you would use any other cooked, steamed or sauteed green.
How to Heal with Nettle
Nettle is the perfect herb to use as a medicinal supplement. It is generally safe so most people of all ages can use it in large doses without side effects. It is a drying herb so you should be aware if you are using it often in therapeutic doses. It may dry you out a bit. It is considered a nutritive herb that is useful in arthritis, eczema, fatigue, seasonal allergies, urinary tract infections, asthma just to name a few. Nettle helps many of these issues because it is a daily detox herb that strengthens your detox organs such as your liver, lungs and urinary tract. It is also an antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, diuretic and a mineral tonic.
Using nettle is very simple. You can drink it as a daily infusion, add it to your herbal teas, or turn it into a tincture.
I use nettle most often in my daily infusion. I found it hard to take alone so I mix it with other herbs like clover or red raspberry leaf. Lemon balm is also another tasty herb to add to nettle drinks. I mix my herbs together about a cup of nettle and a cup of other herbs, then I pour boiling water over them. I let them sit for 8 hours or overnight, straining them in the morning. I put the mix in a mason jar and use this as a concentrate, mixing it with my daily water. It’s up to you how much water you add, maybe you can drink it straight but I like it a little diluted.
When you are feeling a little off and you’re just not sure where to start. Start with nettle. It’s the cheapest energy drink you’ll ever find. It is full of nutrition that can help your body detox and find the balance it’s looking for. You can learn more about my daily infusion routine over at Melissa and Yarrow.
Fresh stinging nettle can be used topically but it is not for the faint of heart. In the past nettle was used for a paralyzed part of the body. More often it is used for sore muscles, joints, and arthritis. If you are suffering from any of these situations grab a bundle of cut nettle, tie it up and use it to flog the affected part of the body. This process is called urtication.
When the small stinging spikes come in contact with the skin they release formic acid causing a red rash. This rash increases circulation to the area relieving the aches and pains. Those who’ve tried this say they feel relief for four to eight days. You can start off a little less violent and just rub the nettle on the affected area. It should have the same result.
Nettle may try to hide behind that spiky exterior but we know the amazing nutritional benefits it provides. Keeping nettle in your kitchen or pantry will help you stay energized and healthy. If you are looking for a way to add all-around nutrition to your daily routine I suggest a daily nettle infusion.
How about you? Are you as amazed as I was to find out how powerful this annoying stinging plant actually is?