HEALING AND HERBS

Springtime Stinging Nettle – Everything You Wanted to Know About Harvesting, Usage, and Preparation

Shi Yao Lian, Practitioner Buddha’s Alchemy

March 26, 2018

Early Spring is a vibrant time on the BC Southwest Coast. The first signs of leaves and shoots entice us towards thoughts of warm sunshine and increased energy. In fact, Spring is the season of Wood in Chinese and Tibetan medicine, and rules the liver and gallbladder. Many of us find ourselves wanting to shed the winter sloth, heaviness, cold and damp, and turn to remedies, nutrition and lifestyle changes that bring light and stimulating energies.

Young tender Stinging Nettle shoots are just sprouting in mid March here. Their distinct woodsy yet aromatic and slightly pungent aroma are a give away to their presence (as is their not so friendly sting if you happen upon them unexpectedly!). My good friend Bill who wildcrafts foods for homemade recipes gave me a call last week to help welcome our Nettle friends home again. After a successful harvest trip and a day of medicine making, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to write a little about this fantastic Native BC medicinal (and delicious) plant.

History and Traditional Uses:

Nettle has been used by many Native American Aboriginal tribes over the centuries. In BC Canada, where we live, the Hesquiaht Nation has used Nettle for “urtification”, rubbing the fresh plant with stinger intact over an affected area (arthritis, soreness, rheumatism and such conditions). This creates counter-irritation and a lesser pain than what the pathology produces, therefore increasing local circulation to the area, and “tricking” or distracting the nervous system. The leaves and roots were also steamed and used as poultices. Many other Native American tribes used Nettle in similar ways, as well as to produce materials used in daily living, such as twine, fishing nets, clothing, etc….

European healers of the past have mentioned Nettle in their writings, such as Hippocrates and Dioscorides, Applications included ulcers, burns, boils, swollen glands, nosebleeds, pneumonia, asthma, and pleurisy.

stinging nettle

Stinging Nettle / Urtica Dioica

Photograph by Dawn Bertram

Plant Basics

Plant family: Urticaceae

Species: Urtica dioica, U. urens, U. trinae, U. thunbergiana, U. macrorrhiza, U. cannabina, U. angustifolia.

Names: Stinging Nettle, Xun ma

Energy: Cool (leaf), warm (Chinese root), drying

Flavors: Bland, sweet, slightly bitter or acrid

Organs/Channels affected: Liver, lungs, bladder, small intestine, kidney, blood, immune system

Chemistry: Formic acid forms the stinging constituent. Tannins, glucoquinines, chlorophyll, flavonoids, quercetin, vitamins A and C, calcium, silicon, potassium, iron, histamine, acetylcholine, protein, and fiber.

Properties and Actions: Anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, astringent, diuretic, tonic, hemostatic, alterative, galactagogue, expectorant. Expels Wind-Damp and Wind-Heat in Chinese medicine. Decreases Pitta and Kapha in Ayurvedic medicine.

An antidote for the sting of Nettle is to rub freshly crushed plantain leaves over the area, or apply as a poultice.

Habitat

Nettle is a herbaceous perennial and grows where the soil is hummus and moist. In BC, it is found in forests (especially Alder and Maple, but others too), near water accumulation like ditches, streams, and bogs, and out in fields. Nettle spreads abundantly and can be found often in large “stands’ or patches. It can also be grown domestically from seed, cuttings, and root divisions.

Harvesting

On the Southwest coast of BC, new spring Nettle shoots generally begin to appear in mid-March, and continue to full growth and flowering until late April or May. Young shoots at least a few inches high should be harvested prior to flowering. The entire stalk with leaves can be snipped a couple of inches or so above the ground (more in larger plants), leaving roots and some growth intact (unless harvesting the root). Nettle should not be harvested once flowering as the flowering plant contains kidney irritants called cystoliths.

Stinging Nettle is appropriately named and harvesting requires wearing gloves unless you don’t mind the mild irritation! An antidote for the sting of Nettle is to rub freshly crushed plantain leaves over the area, or apply as a poultice. It is said that once Nettles are processed in any way – juiced, pureed, cooked or dried, the sting is deactivated. However, I recently dried some of the batch we harvested, and much to my surprise, I did notice some short-lived mild stinging when handling the dried plant. That said, tincturing and infusing will definitely render them “ouch-less”, and I have enjoyed Nettle pesto made with fresh ground Nettle and lived to tell about it (no remorse here!).

dog in the nettle patch

Taylor hunting Nettles

Photograph by Dawn Bertram

Indications and Uses

General Diuretic: Nettle can be used to drain fluids and dampness in edema, urinary retention or difficulty, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), PMS, and joint stiffness. According to Michael Tierra, “… nettle promotes urination when many other substances have failed.”.

UTIs and Other Urinary Tract Inflammations/Conditions: Nettle can be added to formulas for urinary tract infections to mitigate inflammation and promote diuresis. Further, it is a long-term nutritive and restorative tonic for degenerative kidney disease.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH): Nettle has been found to contain high amounts of sterols which stimulate the production of white blood cells counteracting inflammation. Additionally, Nettle root binds to and stimulates SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin), which binds testosterone in the blood. Nettle root and Nettle seed are specifically used for BPH.

Arthritis and Rheumatism: Nettle can be used in “urtification” for arthritis, as previously described in its use in Native American cultures, although this may be considered painful by some. A tincture may also be applied topically, without the associated discomfort! Nettle soothes sinews and moves Blood, as well as dispels Wind-Damp, all patterns of disharmony in arthritis (bi syndrome) in Chinese medicine.

Respiratory Allergies and Asthma: Nettle’s anti-inflammatory actions make it ideal for treating respiratory inflammation. As an expectorant, Nettle helps to reduce and expel phlegm and mucus. The tea of the roots or leaves works for this, or the leaves can be dried and smoked. Freeze dried Nettle supplements are also effective.

Skin, Hair, and Nail Conditions: Acne, eczema, urticaria (hives), burns, vitiligo, and other inflammatory skin eruptions and conditions may be treated with Nettle. It dispels Wind, Damp, and Heat in Chinese medicine, which are found in many of these. Nettle also strengthens brittle nails and revitalizes dry tired skin, bringing back lustrous glow.

Anemia: Nettle is considered Blood building in Chinese medicine, is high in iron, and can be used to treat anemia, given that precaution is taken that its drying effects do not deplete the moist and nourishing body constituents (Yin). It is best used in formulas and enriching preparations for this.

Bleeding and Hemorrhage: Nettle’s astringency makes it ideal for treating bleeding of all types, including heavy menses, blood in the urine, hemorrhoids, and other passive non-urgent internal bleeding. It cools and nourishes the Blood in Chinese medicine and stops bleeding due to deficiency or heat. Of course, you would seek immediate medical treatment for any emergent, acute life-threatening bleeding.

Tonic: Nettle tea can be used daily as a nutritive tonic. It counteracts fatigue and low energy, as well as adrenal stress.

Diarrhea and Dysentery: The same astringent, toning effects make Nettle a good remedy for diarrhea and dysentery, also making it useful for conditions like ulcerative colitis.

nettle tincture

Dosage and Delivery

Nettle tea is made as a standard hot infusion using a 1:10 herb to water ratio for the fresh herb, or 1:20 ratio for dry herb. Mince or crumple Nettle into the bottom of an infuser (French presses work well), and pour just boiled water over the herb. Infuse for 20 minutes. Strain out the herb and enjoy as is, or with a little honey. Tea is taken traditionally as 1 cup 2-3 times daily.

Fresh Nettle tincture can be made at a 1:2 plant to alcohol ratio with 75% alcohol content, or 1:5 dried plant to alcohol ratio at 50% alcohol content. Both are macerated in a jar for about 4 weeks. Dried plant tinctures require shaking or turning daily. Fresh plant tinctures can be left without care. After 4 weeks, strain out the marc, and reserve tincture. 20-40 drops of tincture up to 4 times daily is generally used.

Nettle can also be steamed as a potherb and eaten (much like you would eat spinach or kale) or worked into other delicious recipes.

stinging nettle

Stinging Nettle / Urtica Dioica

Photograph by Dawn Bertram

Recipes and Formulas

Pesto d’Urtica (by Jessy Delleman of Fireweed Farm and School)

1/2 chopped garlic clove

sea salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 good handfuls fresh Nettle leaves

1 handful pine nuts lightly toasted

1 good handful Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)

extra virgin olive oil

1 small squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Blend garlic, sea salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil in a food processor. Add in Nettle leaves and stems. Pulse-blend quickly but don’t puree until Nettle is finely chopped and mixed with oil. Add pine nuts. Add more oil as needed to blend and make a workable consistency. Add cheese last and pulse just to mix.

Use in any way you usually use pesto. Can be frozen.

Urinary Tract Tea Formula (by Dr. Sharol Marie Tilgner, from Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth)

Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi) – 10-20%

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) – 10-30%

Couch Grass (Elytrigia repens) – 10-20%

Nettle (Urtica dioica) – 10-20%

Plantain (Plantago spp.) – 10-20%

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) – 10-20%

Use 2 heaping teaspoons per cup of water 3-4 times daily. Take every 2 hours if necessary up to 48 hours. After 3 days, gradually taper dose over 10 day period. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist over 48 hours or fever develops signaling possible kidney infection.

References:

Delleman, J (2016) Fireweed Farm and School Course Manual

Tilgner, S (2009), Wise Acres LLC, Pleasant Hills, OR, Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth

Alfs, M (2003), Old Theology Book House, New Brighton, MN, 300 Herbs Their Indications & Contradictions

Tierra, M (1988), Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, WI, Planetary Herbology

Tierra, M (1998), Pocket Books, New York, NY, The Way of Herbs

Garran, T (2008), Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT, Western Herbs According To Traditional Chinese Medicine

Tierra, M & Tierra, L (2017), Ben Lomond, CA, East West Herb Course Section 3

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