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NETTLES (Urtica dioica)

 

stinging nettle

Nettles are prolific and found all over the world. They pop up, uninvited, into almost every garden and are possibly one of the most well-known and hated plants on the planet. They flourish almost anywhere, lay dormant in the winter and re-grow from underground stems in the spring. Nettles can grow up to four feet in height, have dark green serrated leaves and greenish-white flowers that hang down in clusters from the leaf nodes on the upper part of the plant.

Stinging nettles are a food source rich in protein, vitamins A, B complex and C and minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. They lose their stinging ability when dried and make good food for farm animals. It is possible to pick nettles without being stung if they are grasped hard enough to force the stinging hairs flat so that they cannot penetrate the skin, but you must be brave here - he who hesitates is lost, and the timid will be stung. Alternatively, protective gloves can be worm.

In France nettles are eaten as a vegetable. They are gathered early in the season, before the stems become tough and woody, and when the leaves are still soft and bright green. Only the tips of the plant are used; they are picked, washed and cooked gently for about 20 minutes without the addition of further water. When they are tender they may be finely chopped or puréed and seasoned with a little salt, pepper and butter. The cooking denatures the 'sting' and they are a very nutritious addition to the diet.

Nettle tea is good for treating the symptoms of anaemia and can help flush impurities from the body. It is also good for asthma and other allergy-related conditions. Nettle is known for its ability to reduce the amount of histamine the body produces so can be useful for treating hay fever and hives.

Stinging nettles are an excellent natural remedy for Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, bladder infections, bronchitis, bursitis, gingivitis, gout, kidney stones, laryngitis, multiple sclerosis, PMS, prostate enlargement and sciatica. They are also a natural diuretic, probably due to high levels of potassium, and may be used in treatment of urinary problems and are helpful in the treatment of symptoms (but not the actual swelling) of an enlarged prostate gland.

Nettle is also a great tonic for the hair and skin. The plant juices make a good addition to shampoo and has anti-dandruff properties.

 

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Native American healers used to hit the arms or legs of paralysed patients with nettles to stimulate their muscles. Roman soldiers used this method to warm their bodies and restore circulation in cold weather. This technique is also used worldwide to relieve pain.

Nicholas Culpeper, a 17th century astrologer and physician, wrote: " The roots or leaves, or the juice of them, boiled and made into an electuary with honey, is a safe and sure medicine to open the passages of the lungs, which is the cause of wheezing and shortness of the breath. It helps to expectorate phlegm and help to treat pleurisy. As a gargle, it helps the swelling of the mouth and throat. A decoction of the leaves provokes the courses and urine and expels gravel and stone. It kills worms in children, eases pain in the sides and dissolves wind in the spleen. The seed taken as a drink is remedy against the bites of dogs and the poisonous qualities of Hemlock, Henbane, Nightshade and Mandrake. The bruised seed or leaves put into the nostrils takes away the polypus. The juice of the leaves or a decoction of the root is used as a wash for fistulas and gangrenes and for corroding scabs or itch."

It seems nowadays we have forgotten the wonderful properties of the common wild stinging nettle which is strange as it is such a profusely growing weed in the UK.

Nutrients in nettles per 100 grams

  • Calories 65

  • Protein 5.5 g

  • Fat 7 g

  • Vitamin A 6,500 IU

  • Vitamin C 76 mg

Nettle tea

Nettle tea has long been used as a health promoting drink. It is thought to be beneficial to the digestive system, urinary tract and to the blood and because nettles are rich in iron this tea can also help combat anaemia. This recipe has powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties and three cups can be consumed per day to help fight off infections.

Ingredients

  • 25 g dried stinging nettle leaves

  • 25 g dried dandelion leaves

  • 25 g dried birch leaves

  • 25 g rose hips

  • Half a freshly squeezed lemon

  • Three cloves

  • One teaspoon of raw honey

Method

  • Put one or two teaspoons of the above dry ingredients (except the honey) into a cup full of boiling water.

  • Leave to steep for ten minutes then strain.

  • Reheat gently without boiling then stir in the honey and lemon juice.

  • Drink three cups per day.

NOTE: Do not drink nettle tea if suffering from heart or kidney problems.

Associated subjects

"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC

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