Plant Spotlight: Nourish with Nettles
Urtica dioica – Stinging Nettles
I’ll bet if you got a bunch of herbalists in a room together, and asked them what their favorite herb is, about 50% of them would say stinging nettles, and the other 50% would rank it high up in their top five. Why is a plant that is full of little hairs that are basically like hypodermic needles that give you a good sting so popular? Two reasons. Herbalists are a crazy (good crazy) bunch, and also nettles are a powerful ally to have. It is nutrient and protein rich while being anti-inflammatory. It is used heavily this time of year to help assuage seasonal allergies. All parts of the plant have medicinal use…Too much for one blog post!
Much is written about nettles. Poetically written, in fact. I don’t feel like I can sum it up better than Wise Woman herbalists Susun Weed and Kiva Rose, so, I give you this post for pointers on growing nettles and a DIY way you can consume a true super food on a daily basis. Read their posts for inspiration, perhaps fall down the rabbit hole of endless blogs and links, then use these tips to grow your own patch!
I planted a patch of Nettles in my backyard about 6 years ago, and every year the patch gets a little bigger. I put them in a corner of the yard that the hose just doesn’t reach, so it essentially lives off of the moisture that the Earth gives us. Generally, when I see them outside of a tended garden setting, they are in shady, cool spots. I have, however seen them in gardens in full sun, receiving supplemental water and thriving. They prefer good soil rich in nitrogen. The site I selected in my yard is under the shade of trees in a place that never sees a fall raking. Year after year, the leaves fall, decompose, and enrich the soil, and the spring brings gentle rains that coax intense green stalks and leaves out of their leafy blanket. The mature plants can get rather tall – depending on how much moisture they receive, and for painful reasons, are best suited away from walkways.
Make Nettles Vinegar
With long sleeves and thick gardening gloves on, harvest some fresh spring stinging nettles (or forgo the gloves, and use previously dried nettles). The amount you harvest depends on the amount of vinegar you want to make, and the size of your nettles patch. For use throughout the year, you may want to make a few quarts, if possible. Keep your gloves on, and get out a cutting board and a sharp knife. Strip the leaves off of the nettles stems, and coarsely chop them. Fill your jar(s) with the chopped nettles, and then fill the jar a second time with organic apple cider vinegar. If your jar has a metal lid, line the mouth of your jar with a square of plastic wrap or wax paper before attaching the lid in order to prevent the acidic vinegar from corroding it. Label your jar of nettles vinegar, including the date, and place it in a cool place away from light. Ideally, you should shake it daily for 4-6 weeks, but if you don’t remember to every day, that’s completely fine! At the end of this period of time, you’ll want to strain the nettles out of the infused vinegar. Line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth to catch the plant material, and place the strainer over something to catch the liquid – I usually use a 4 cup glass measuring cup, which makes it easy to pour into a clean jar once it is strained out. Strain the nettles vinegar, and squeeze the plant material in the cheesecloth in order to get the most liquid out of it as possible. An optional step you can do now is do very gently heat the vinegar (just warm some water in a small saucepan, and place the jar of strained vinegar in the saucepan for a double boiler effect), and add a small amount of honey, stir it in until it has fully incorporated into the vinegar. Immediately take off the heat. This makes taking daily doses of the vinegar more palatable.
The vinegar acts as both a preservation vehicle, and an extraction medium for the nutrients contained in nettles. Nettles are very rich in trace minerals and vitamins. Iron, Calcium, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, are just a few things you find in their nutrient-dense leaves. You can take your vinegar by the tablespoonful, or as salad dressing. 1-2 tablespoons per day is beneficial for many things, including building stronger teeth and bones, and building red blood cells – which translates to more energy, among other benefits.
I haven’t mentioned it yet, but cooking or drying stinging nettles will take away the sting. Nettles as an infusion is also a great way to get your daily dose, if you prefer not to consume vinegar. Simply put an ounce of dried (or two ounces fresh) nettles in a quart jar,and fill it up with just boiled water. Optionally, you may wish to add a pinch of spearmint, or aromatic herb of your choice. Allow to steep anywhere from a few hours to overnight, and consume within 48 hours. Susun Weed calls these nourishing infusions, and she recommends drinking one daily! Nettles is just one of the many nutrient rich plants that is appropriate for this application.