Fleetneedles' Forage: Nettles

As part of our Save Our Skills year, we are looking at foraging. These post were originally published on our Facebook Page, we'd like to thank Claire Fleetneedle for allowing us to publish them here. Claire continues to post to our Life on Pig Row Facebook Page, so it's worth liking us there too.

Get your own back on nettles #foraging #saveourskills

Nettles (Urtica Dioica)

Stinging Nettles, sometimes called greater nettle, are so well known they hardly need description.  The plants ability to sting makes it easy to identify.

Contains vitamins A, B6, C, D & K, plus potassium, protein, magnesium, calcium, beta-carotene and iron, also serotonin, silica and histamine.

Do not take during pregnancy. Avoid using stinging nettles if you are taking medication for blood thinning, high blood pressure or diabetes or if you are already taking water retention/diuretic medication. It is always advisable to wear protective gloves when picking stinging nettles.

Expectorant, diuretic, blood tonic, circulatory stimulant, astringent, nutritive, digestive, anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, stops bleeding, removes uric acid

Everyday Uses
I vividly remember, as a child, watching my Grandfather making his annual batch of nettle beer. I also remember the year he decided to store them outside his garage, where the heat presumably expanded the contents – resulting in about 20 exploding nettle beer bottles, closely followed by lots of swearing.

In recent years nettles have had something of a culinary renaissance, most people are now aware that the young tops can be cooked and eaten like greens. However being edible and nutritious is only the beginning of this plants diverse uses.

Taken regularly, nettles can act as a tonic for the entire system by slowly and gently cleansing the body of metabolic waste. If you don’t enjoy eating nettle, it is just as valuable made into a tea. This can be made by the teapot with either a few handfuls of fresh leaves or a few tablespoons of dried.

Nettle tea eliminates excess phlegm and is thought useful in the treatment of chest complaints. I can attest to its effectiveness on both asthma and bronchitis.

The tea has long been known to remove uric acid from the system, making it an ideal treatment for both gout and arthritis. In one of my older herbal books it is claimed that nettles should be used in the treatment of arthritis by stinging the affected area – therefore stimulating the blood flow in that area. Though I am sure this would increase circulation (American studies have shown stinging can help arthritic joints) I should imagine the discomfort outweighs the benefits. Coincidentally nettle is a circulatory stimulant when taken as a tea or in tincture form.

Nettle, like so many of the plants I have covered in this series, also acts as a diuretic. Herbalists more commonly use it for kidney complaints and to calm and heal urinary inflammations.

The juice used as a compress takes down swelling and gargling with the tea can also help with throat inflammations.

The plant is known to stop bleeding both internally and externally. For this reason is was once used in the treatment of infected wounds and even haemorrhoids.

A constituent of the nettle is serotonin which is perhaps why it was once thought valuable in the treatment of melancholy and depression.

Often used as a cure for diarrhoea, it can, in fact, be beneficial in a whole range of digestive issues. Due to the high concentration of minerals and nutrients nettle is ideal for people suffering from vitamin deficiency and anaemia and is also considered nourishing for the kidneys and the adrenal glands.

One little known fact is that fresh nettle juice provides a cure for nettle sting rash. Indeed, nettle juice is surprisingly soothing in a whole range of skin conditions such as heat rash, eczema and psoriasis. Taken internally it removes toxins from the blood, making it doubly helpful for people with auto immune skin complaints such as eczema.
As well as calming skin complaints, it was once believed that nettle decoctions stimulated hair growth. Like many folk tales it has its roots in fact - due to a high silica content it is actually very good for the nails and hair. Perhaps it is for this reason it was traditionally used to make hair lotion. Apparently this was prepared by boiling the entire plant in a solution of water and vinegar, eau de cologne was then added to make it smell pleasant. Once rinsed through the hair it was meant to make it thick, lustrous and strong. Today nettle extract is still used by some manufacturers to make beauty products.

Nettle also works as a natural anti-histamine and is thought particularly effective in the treatment of allergies – specifically hay fever and food allergies.

The fibre of the nettle plant is very similar to hemp, and it was once made into cloth and even fishing nets. I have read several sources that claim that nettle cloth was even more durable than linen, which makes me wonder why it is no longer produced.

I found so many recipes, remedies and general uses for nettles it would be a weighty tome if I listed them all, so I will conclude with one of my favourite uses for nettle, plant fertiliser.  To make it I collect a few large bunches of nettles in the early spring. I cut them up and put them in a bucket with a couple of litres of water. I then cover the bucket and leave it ferment for about 3 weeks. The liquid produced by this process stinks to high heaven (a cross between tooth decay and sewerage) but it feeds my potted plants all summer for free.
This is my personal experience of using nettles combined with information I have researched over a number of years. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.

Happy Hunting, Claire Fleetneedle

LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.


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