Stinging nettle makes an incredibly healthy tea or tonic. But gleaning and handling this plant can be a little tricky. After all, they don’t call it “stinging nettle” for nothing.
What is stinging nettle?
Stinging nettle is a perennial flowering native plant that you can find in bunches throughout the Pacific Northwest. We have the rich soil and moist woodlands that stinging nettle loves to grow in. And, as a bonus, this plant is considered a weed. So, if you find it in a neighbor’s yard, they will likely thank you when you ask if you can harvest it.
- The leaves are few inches long and range in color from a vibrant to a dark green.
- The edges of the leaves are serrated, and the leaves grow in symmetrical pairs, across from each other.
- The leaf tip is pointed, and its base is heart-shaped.
- During this time of year, your clump of nettles will still be close to the ground and only have a few rows of leaves – but by late spring the nettles should be between 3-6 feet tall with white and green flowers. If the nettles are flowering, the time to harvest them has passed.
- If you touch it, it will sting you. Often this discomfort only lasts for a few hours and can be eased with aloe vera or calamine lotion.
What are the health benefits of stinging nettle?
Consuming something that begins with “stinging” and ends with “nettle” is not very comforting. That’s completely understandable! However, stinging nettle has been used since the Bronze age for fabric, arthritis relief, back pain, and chronic disease. That’s a pretty wide variety of applications!
Nettle contains a surprising amount of protein (2.4 grams per cup) as well as many, many nutrients like calcium, iron, potassium, and silica. It has the highest levels of minerals of any land plant! Nettle tea and other cooked nettle dishes also contain plenty of vitamin A, D, and K. With all of these fantastic nutrients, it’s no wonder so many choose to brave a few stinging nettles to brew a nice cup of tea.
While all of these nutrients and vitamins have their own fantastic health benefits, eating cooked nettle, consuming products containing nettle root, or drinking nettle tea has been proven to help specific health problems. These include:
- Urinary and kidney issues
- Joint pain
- Pain from osteoarthritis
- Hay fever
- Seasonal allergies
- Menstrual symptoms
- Wound healing
There are times when it’s smart to avoid consuming stinging nettle, however. These include during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, and if you have diabetes. Stinging nettle can stimulate early contractions during pregnancy and can affect blood sugar. So, if you are experiencing these conditions, talk to your doctor/acupuncturist/herbalist before sipping on stinging nettle tea. Also, the seeds can be toxic to the kidneys, so do not consume them once they have gone to seed– it is best as an early spring tonic.
A step by step guide to gathering and preparing nettles for tea
Fortunately for everyone, stinging nettle loses its sting when soaked, cooked in water (for over 3 minutes) or dried. That’s why human beings have been able to use this plant in both fabric and food for hundreds of years. While you can buy dried nettle and nettle tea at the store, many of us Portlanders love to glean from the land. If you are a fellow gleaner, here is an easy-to-follow guide to avoid being stung while collecting nettles:
- Before heading out on your expedition, stock up on lined or rubber gloves, clippers, and a container for your nettles. Also, wear long sleeves and pants. This is generally enough to avoid stings.
- Identify young spring nettles. I have described nettles above, and included a picture in this article from my own gleaning. However, if you want additional help, try picking up a field guide like Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon. You can pick it up at Powell’s, get it from the library or ask your local bookstore what field guide they recommend.
- Clip healthy leaves off the nettle. If you are helping a neighbor by harvesting this “weed,” you can pull up the whole plant and put it in a bag. Otherwise, just clip off the top two or three pairs of leaves to allow the plant to keep growing. You can also clip the stems and use them in your tea, so don’t be overly cautious about only collecting the leaves. Additionally, if you are sustainably gleaning nettles, note where you found the plant. Stinging nettle will bloom in late spring, die off in fall, and then grow back in the same spot next spring.
- Be sure to talk to your doctor/acupuncturist/herbalist if you are pregnant, or have diabetes before consuming nettles.
- When you get home, put on rubber gloves and thoroughly wash the nettle leaves. You are looking for bugs, dirt, and other contaminants.
- Put about five cups of water into a pot and carefully add your nettles using your gloves or chopsticks. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down to simmer for about 15 to 30 minutes. The water should turn a light or dark green color – depending on how long you boil them. Once the water has stopped boiling, let everything cool down for another 10 minutes or so.
- Now that you have boiled the nettles, they aren’t going to sting you anymore. You can strain out the leaves and use them as compost or include them in recipes as a replacement for cooked spinach.
- Enjoy and drink your tea! You can drink it plain, it has a wonderful smooth earthy flavor that feels very nourishing to drink! It can also be fun to add a little lemon juice into your nettle tea. This will turn the tea pink – especially if you’ve included the stems when making nettle tea.
Here at AOM Health, we are passionate about improving health with acupuncture, cupping, and Chinese herbal formulas. Contact us today if you’d like to learn more about how you can improve your health with these natural methods.