I’ll paraphrase one of my favorite herbalists, jim mcdonald, when he speaks to the difficulty some folks have in gaining confidence with herbs. He suggests picking one or two herbs to focus on completely– Grow them, eat them, read about them, make medicine with them, etc.; if you really got to know, say, Peppermint and Chamomile, you could treat an enormous variety of health problems with those two herbs alone. From there, it’s smooth sailing in terms of expanding your herbal knowledge base.
If this approach appeals to you, I humbly suggest the Nettle plant, Urtica dioica, as one of your top two herbs. As allergy season is upon us, any herbalist worth her salt will wax poetic about the allergy-relieving power of Nettle leaf if you give her half a chance. And it’s true- Nettles’ anti-histamine action provides powerful, instantaneous relief for allergy symptoms. But Nettles is a wonder of an herb because every part of the plant has a different medicinal use. The seeds, leaves, stem, and root all have their own unique gifts to offer.
Nettle leaf is primarily harvested to treat allergies, to act as a diuretic, and to nourish and nurture the joints, hair, skin, nails, etc. with its miraculously rich mineral content (see my previous article about Nettle leaf to learn more about its far-reaching medicinal uses). Nettle leaves contain large amounts of chlorophyll, are cleansing to the lungs, and can help with asthmatic conditions. The tiny hairs on the Nettle leaf and stem contain formic acid, hence the sting. This stinging property can be used medicinally in a process called “urtication”, whereby the stinging leaf is applied to the skin to encourage healing blood flow to a particular area. This can be incredibly healing for arthritis, especially in the finger joints.
Nettle root is a powerful astringent herb, and it works specifically to tone the urinary and reproductive systems. Nettle root rejuvenates and invigorates the kidneys, bladder, and prostate. The tonifying, strengthening effects of strong Nettle root tea can be felt immediately—you might want to give it a try sometime. Nettle root is often found in formulas to counteract Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) and to restore health and normalcy to the prostate. Of course, it acts equally potently on the corresponding tissue in women. Nettle root’s high concentration of sterols encourage white blood cell production, helping to fight off infections and inflammation.
Nettle seed is known as a nephroprotective herb, or protective of the kidneys. Nettle seed is potently nourishing to the kidneys and helps to replenish and nurture the adrenals. It is indicated for chronic exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and impaired kidney function. For degenerative kidney diseases, it may be combined with Cordyceps, a nephroprotective adaptogen. Nettle seed has many of the same properties as the leaf, but it packs more of a punch. Nettle seed can be harvested by cutting off the flowering tops and hanging them to dry. You can make an alcohol tincture or sprinkle them on salads for a mineral-rich, nourishing boost of energy. If you ever have the chance to watch Nettles releasing their seeds into the air, it’s a beautiful sight. The seeds burst out of the flower heads in little puffs, and they’re so tiny they look like mist.
Last but not least, Nettle stems have their uses too! The fiber from Nettle stems can be spun into strong thread and used to weave a durable cloth. By splitting the stems with a sharp knife, the fibers can then be extracted and hung to dry. Nettle fiber has been used through the ages for spinning, weaving, and cordage of various kinds, including fishing nets.
In the garden, Nettles are one of the first herbs to come up each spring. They are perfect for flushing out the system after a long winter and ushering in the dynamic, flowing spirit of Spring. Baby Nettles that haven’t yet acquired their sting can be harvested and added to spring salads for their nutritive, cleansing, mineral-rich properties. You can eat grown Nettles too, but they should be blanched or steamed before eating, to get rid of the sting. Nettles is a perennial herb, so you can enjoy its many benefits year after year.
This is a great time of year to add Nettles to your home apothecary. To get to know Nettles in person, stop by the garden any time! Or volunteer alongside Smile staff on the following days:
Updated Times for Spring 2019:
Nicole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org