Nettle

Nettle

Nettle, Urtica dioica, is used in Europe as a spring tonic to strengthen and support the whole body, and as a general detoxifying remedy.

FAMILY

Urticaceae

OTHER NAMES

Stinging nettle, common nettle, nettle wort

PARTS USED

Leaf, root, seed

HABITAT

Endemic to Eurasia and naturalized throughout the world.

BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION

Hardiness: USDA zones 2 to 10
Height: 90 to 183 cm (3 to 6 feet)
Width: 60 to 90 cm (24 to 36 inches)
Flowers: White, small and clustered
Leaves: Oval with pointy tip, downy with deeply serrated edges and with stinging hairs
Roots: Deep yellow, fibrous
Blooms: June to September

CULTIVATION

Not many people consider growing nettle in their garden and the reasons are clear. It’s a stingy herb that is hard to eradicate when well established. However, it is worth to have nettle on hand since it has outstanding medicinal value and garden uses. It supports over 40 species of insects and make a fine compost tea for hungry plants such as tomatoes and the members of the squash and cabbage families.

Nettle is very useful in the vegetable garden. It attracts beneficial insects and is also an indicator of fertilized or over fertilized soil, especially high levels of phosphate and nitrogen in the soil.

Since it spreads by rhizomes and seeds, it can be invasive and troubling in a home garden. So contain its growth by regularly tilling the beds and pruning the plant.

Alternatively, plant it in a large flower pot. Use the cut off plant parts as food, medicine and fertilizer.

Propagation: Seed, cuttings, root division, rhizome
Germination: 10 to 14 days
Spacing: 60 to 90 cm (24 to 36 inches)
Soil: Rich with nitrogen and damp
pH: 6.5 to 7.5
Exposure: Full sun or partial shade
Pests: Slugs and snails when the plant is young
Garden Design: In the back of the border away from curious hands and noses. Alternatively, grow it under fruit trees keeping it trimmed close to the ground.
Companion planting: Nettle is an excellent companion plant in any garden. However, it is especially helpful for fruit trees, (particularly apple, pear and plum trees), berry bushes, valerian and mustard. In the herb and vegetable gardens, it is especially helpful to herbs that contain essential oils such as sage, basil and mint. The nitrogenous compounds of nettle make it a good compost activator. As a liquid fertilizer, it supplies magnesium, sulfur and iron to the soil.

BENEFITS OF STINGING NETTLE TO WILDLIFE

Stinging nettle growth is encouraged in some countries because it supports over 40 species of insects. Nettles are the exclusive larval food of the tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies. The larvae of many moths also eat stinging nettle. For this reason, it is important to be conscious while foraging in the wild for nettle. Only take what you need and leave plenty for other people and wildlife.

TREATING THE STINGS

When in contact with the skin, stinging nettle causes an uncomfortable burning sensation. To reduce the discomfort and treat the itching, use the juice of greater plantain or dock leaves. Gather several clean leaves, crush them in your hands than squeeze them in between your fingers and let the juice drip on the affected area. Rub the squeezed leaves in on the stung skin.
If you brush against stinging nettle, the fragile tips of their hairs break off to release histamine, serotonin and acetylcholine which cause inflammation and pain.

HARVEST

Wear gloves and long sleeved clothing to avoid being stung by the hairs on the nettle leaves and stems. The leaves can be harvested until the flowering shoots appear. Cut back the plant about 30 cm (12 inches) above ground to encourage more growth for a second or even third harvest.

The roots should be harvested when the plant is dormant from late fall to early spring. It’s a lot of work to harvest nettle roots but it is worth it as it produces excellent medicine.

While wearing gloves, harvest the seeds by stripping them off the plants.

DRYING

Lay the stems on a flat surface or drying racks in a well-ventilated room away from direct light. Alternatively, dry them in a dehydrator at temperatures between 35 to 38 Celsius (95 and 100 F). The leaves dry easily on the stem. They leaves are ready to garble when they are dry and easily break off the main stem.

CONSTITUENTS

Leaf: 1 to 2% flavonoids (glucosides, rutinosides of quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin), 1-4% silicates, scopoletin, sitosterol, caffeic acid esters, proteins, minerals (iron, silicid acid, phosphorus, manganese, calcium, potassium), vitamins (A, C, B2, B5, E and K), unsaturated fat, chlorophyll.

Stinging hairs: indoles (histamine, serotonin), acetylcholine, traces of nicotine, small amounts of formic acid

Seeds: 30% fatty oils (74-83% linolic acid), mucilage forming polysaccharides and carotenoids

Roots: Tannins, phytosterol, Urtica dioica agglutinin, polysaccharide

PROPERTIES

Diuretic, tonic, hypotensive, astringent (roots)

ENERGETICS

Cool

TASTE

Salty (mineral rich)

SCENT

Leaf: Mild
Seed: Like carrots
Root: Not characteristic

TASTE

Not characteristic

MEDICINAL USE OF NETTLE

Nettle is used medicinally as a mild diuretic. It’s is a fantastic tonic and it is wonderful for promoting liver and kidney health. It is an outstanding herb for the musculoskeletal system. A superfood, nettle is loaded with body fortifying minerals, chlorophyll, vitamins and protein.

Used internally for:

  • Rheumatic complaints
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Myalgia
  • Increasing enzyme production of the pancreas
  • Promoting wound healing
  • Biliary disorders
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia stages I and II (nettle root)

Used externally for:

  • Seborrhea
  • Overly greasy hair

Recommended daily dosage:

Tincture: (1:5 in 40%): 2.5 to 5 ml three times per day.
Infusion: 1 cup three times per day of 1 to 3 teaspoons of dried herb infused for 10-15 minutes in 1 cup of boiling water.

German Commission E recommends: 8 to 12 g of herb and 4 to 6 g of root
The British Herbal Pharmacopeia recommends: 2 to 4 g of dried herb or 2 to 6 ml tincture three times per day (1:5 in 45 % alcohol)
The British Herbal Compendium recommends: 5 to 10 ml of fresh juice three times daily.

HOMEMADE PREPARATIONS
  • Infusion
  • Tincture
  • Powder
  • Fresh pressed plant juice
CULINARY USE

When cooked, stinging nettle tastes similar to spinach. It is a wonderful source of nutrients in early spring when other food plants are scarce. To safely eat it, soak the nettle in water or cook it like spinach to remove the stinging hairs. Only the young top leaves should be used. Nettle is also tasty when pureed, and added to pesto or polenta. Nettle soup is flavorful and common in northern and eastern Europe where it is used for cleansing the body. The Scots make nettle pudding with leeks, broccoli, and rice.

In cheesemaking, strong nettle tea can be used as a rennet substitute.

The seeds are a delicacy when roasted and another nutritious choice in fall.

SIDE EFFECTS

When carelessly touched, nettle can cause contact dermatitis (urticaria). Wear gloves when harvesting.

In very rare cases, allergies, edema, skin affections and gastric irritation can occur after drinking nettle herb tea.

CONTRA-INDICATIONS

None. However, nettle leaves should be harvested only until before the flower shoots appear. While flowering, nettle produces a chemical that can irritate the urinary tract. The herb should not contain more than 2% stem and not more than 2% flower parts.
Nettle is not appropriate for the treatment of edema caused by cardiac or renal insufficiency.

Nettle
References
Weinrich, C. 2015. Mischkultur im Hobbygarten. 4th ed. Sttuttgart: Ulmer
Keville, K. 1994. Herbs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers
Hoffmann, D. 2003. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester: Healing Arts Press
Wichtl M. 2004. Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals – A handbook for practice on a scientific basis. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: medpharm Scientific Publishers

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