Ah Nettles. Much overlooked often avoided, they are one of my favourite plant allies. Sure they’ll sting you if you’re not careful but even that is said to be beneficial. They are soooooo good for you and all they ask for is a bit of courage (or, you know, a glove) fortune favours the brave and all that. I see it as a kind of tax. Nettles grow just about everywhere. Often found in waste grounds and hedgerows. They are distinctive and easy to identify even when you aren’t expecting it.
The story goes: The Romans (bloody Romans, what have they ever done for us?) introduced Nettles as they thought Britain would be so cold they would require them to warm themselves up, by stinging themselves I assume, no thanks!
Perhaps this is true but Nettles are so useful not just medicinally, perhaps their introduction was multifaceted: The fibers can be used to make rope and material; In WWI the Germans used Nettle to make material for their soldiers. They are fast growing, do well in pretty much every situation, provide food and medicine and can eve be used to dye wool etc.
So why don’t we use them more? yes, the sting is unpleasant but easily avoidable, either by wearing gloves or by only touching the underside of the leaves.
The ‘sting’ in Stinging Nettles is caused by teeny tiny hollow hairs which cover the tops of the leaves and the stem. At the base of each hair is a store of venom made up of histamine and formic acid. When brushed up against, the hair breaks off in the skin, delivering a toxin. As ever, we have been given a remedy to this venom by mother nature, as most country folk (and I would like to think city folk too) know, the cure to this irritant is found in Dock Leaves usually growing in the same space as nettles, which is why I see it as a tax, you might suffer a little sting but not for long.
When crushed or chewed, dock leaf juice can be rubbed on the affected area and soothed. As a child I had a few bad encounters with nettle patches and landing in them. I’ve always been accident prone, although being thrown from a horse isn’t something I could blame on that ( I still love her). Thankfully I knew where to look for Dock Leaf although it couldn’t soothe my bruised ego.
Dock leaf is actually a placebo. It works because it has a cooling affect which is enough of a remedy for most. If you’re really suffering look for Plantain instead.
When gathering Nettles, it is best to only take the top leaves as these are the newest and most potent. Some things to be aware of though: It is not recommended to harvest and use Nettles once they’ve gone to seed as they can irritate the urinary tract. Also, nettles are home and food source to many species of caterpillar and butterfly so do have a good look before you pick them and don’t decimate one place.
Actually, while we are here; Nettle patches are thriving ecosystems ( I cried actual tears when our local council cut back the entire patch where I walk the dog midsummer last year). In our current climate emergency we need to be considering more re-wilding projects. If you can dedicate a bit of your garden (even a pot) to Nettles you will be benefiting yourself and loved ones, the insects, birds, food chain and our earth.
The technique for picking them without being stung takes some practice: Using your thumb and forefingers, from above, reach around and hook the top little bunch of leaves up from the bottom, being careful not to squeeze too hard. I’ll be honest here, I’m not the best at it. I just pay the tax and have tingly, numb fingertips for a day or two. If I am planning on gathering lots I take a glove. I do know a child who is completely immune to Nettle Stings but its not legal for me to employ them…yet.
Nettles are high in Vitamins A, C, D and K they also contain calcium, Iron, Potassium, Manganese and protein supporting the entire body. Taken internally they are known to:
- Boost red blood cell count, improve Circulation, help with anemia boosting energy and lowering blood sugar levels
- As a tonic they clear out toxins particularly from the liver, improving liver function (alcohol anyone?).
- They are a good woman’s ally as they can help regulate periods,ease a heavy flow and increase milk production when breastfeeding.
- They are also an antihistamine, clear catarrh and coughs and protect the gut.
Used Externally in a balm Nettles help with skin complaints such as eczema and psoriasis. They are antibacterial so a good addition to gardeners balms and healing balms. As I mentioned before, being stung is actually good for you; one old folk remedy for arthritis and rheumatism is to allow yourself to be stung on the affected area. You can even use a tea as a fertilizer for other plants (much like Comfrey)
How To Use
So, you know how to pick them and what they are good for; another reason I love nettles is because they are versatile as fuck.
Firstly, EAT THEM! as long as they are cooked they won’t sting you. you can saute them in a little butter and use like spinach or any other greens: add to quiche, scrambled eggs and baked veggies. I love them in my green goddess soup or wild pesto.
You can use them in baking by simply blanching them and refreshing in cold water before adding to bread, cakes and falafals etc I recommend blitzing them up with a blender first.
Nettle syrup is a delicious way of preserving the magic of nettles. Use it as a refreshing drink (amazing on a warm day added to a G&T) or over ice cream. This year we will also be trying nettle beer recipe from Adele Nozedar. I’ll let you know how it goes in a couple of months.
Secondly, as a Tisane/tea Nettle is very soothing and energy boosting. I like to gather as much as possible in the spring, dry it out and store it for later use. It’s supportive when fighting bugs, handy against hayfever and other allergies and eases recovery from a heavy weekend of partying (Me? Never). You can even use it as a hair rinse to stimulate growth and strengthen the hair, I add it to my magic hair gel.
Finally, Nettle is a great addition to many home made balms. The best way to do this is to make an infusion: simply pack the fresh or dried materials into a sterile glass jar or bottles, completely cover with oil (hemp, sweet almond and olive are popular choices) and leave to steep in a cupboard for at least a month preferably 3. If you are in a rush you could use the double boiler method but it uses a lot of energy.
Nettles are sacred to Mars and the Element of Fire. They are also sacred to the Norse God Thor. It is said, if you throw a handful of Nettles onto a fire during a thunderstorm it will protect your home from lightning strikes.
Popular among travelers, Nettles drive a way fear and instill courage. They make good additions to ‘Mojo bags’ and talismans pouches.
In sympathetic magic; Nettles are used to ward off evil or harm and add sting to reversing and binding spells. Their ability to grow in even the harshest conditions makes them a good symbol for overcoming hardship and finding ways to thrive. They are a popular addition to witch jars, particularly for protection.
There you have it, Nettle: If you can brave his sting he will be a great friend to you. One of the most adaptable and generous of plant allies to us and the environment. Get out and give them a tickle, its really not so bad.
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Happy Foraging, Peace out witches!
Love Kate xxx