Meet one of our best plant friends- though chances are you've already heard about them. You've probably even seen them too, whether you know it or not. We're talking of course about Urtica dioica, commonly known as stinging nettle. Growing in many places as a weed, nettles are truly a people's herb- easy to identify, easy to gather and incredibly useful. They're proof that the best medicine is usually what's common and close at hand.
The sight of nettles poking up out of the soil in early spring makes our hearts jump. Their bright green leaves are full of the nutrients and medicine that we crave after winter. They're rich in chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, silica and even protein. They nourish on a deep, deep level and encourage the flushing of toxins and waste out of our body's systems. They're a true tonic- in other words, an herb you can take every day to build up vitality. Drink a strong nettle tea throughout the day for one whole week and see how you feel!
The benefits of nettle do get much more specific. One of its best known uses is as an antihistamine to treat seasonal allergies. (If you're using nettle for this effect, start at least a month before allergy season.) Nettle seeds are used to balance the body's stress response, a beautiful remedy for anyone dealing with burnout. The leaves + stalk also have a long history of being used as an anti-inflammatory. One folk remedy for arthritis involves purposefully stinging the aching body part with fresh nettle leaves- not for the faint of heart!
Overall quite the wonder-plant, right? And nearly every part has a non-medicinal use, too. The stems are very fiberous and have been used for textiles everywhere from ancient China to WWII-era Germany. The leaves can be used for dyeing fabric. And because they're so rich in vitamins and minerals, a strong nettle tea makes a nice liquid fertilizer for other plants- or even a hair rinse for humans.
Though they've been used for thousands of years, nettles have had quite the jump in popularity again. It probably helps that they're easy to find and harvest- as long as you know how to avoid their sting. As you might know from experience, they're covered with tiny hairs that will leave red, itchy welts if they touch your bare skin. Luckily, this threat fades once they're picked and disappears completely once you steam or cook the leaves. If you'd like to harvest them yourself, wear gloves and practice good wildcrafting ethics: choose plants that are growing in clean environments. Cut the plant right above a leaf node so that it can regrow. And please take only what you can use, leaving plenty for other critters.
Nettle leaves have a mild green flavor, easily replacing cooked greens like spinach and kale in recipes and taking the idea of "food as medicine" to a new level. We love to incorporate them into pesto and nourishing soups. But making an herbal infusion is still probably our favorite way to take our nettles- that's why we include them in our Nourish and Licorice + Cedar teas. If possible, make an overnight infusion in a quart jar and sip throughout the day. It just feels like what your body needs, even if you didn't realize it.
Nettle + Parsley Pesto
A delicious and nutrient dense spring pesto to enjoy on grains, steamed veggies, eggs, sandwiches and it's pretty much a tasty addition to just about any meal.
3 cups blanched fresh nettles, water pressed out
1/2 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley
handful of tender dandelion leaves (optional)
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts (or almonds or walnuts are delicious options too)
a few cloves of garlic peeled
1/2 cup good olive oil
grated zest from 1 lemon
a few pinches of salt
1/2 cup grated fine hard cheese like vella dry jack or parmigiano reggiano (optional)
1 dried hot pepper (optional)
Start with the toasted nuts, garlic, salt and a bit of the olive oil and pulse in the food process till coarsely blended. Add all the rest of the ingredients and pulse until desired consistency is achieved. Store in sealed glass container with a layer of olive oil on top to preserve color. Enjoy within a weeks time or freeze for up to 3 months.