The Stinging Nettle – an Amazing Plant (updated 2021)

The Stinging Nettle – an Amazing Plant (updated 2021)

This will hopefully prove to be an interesting subject where we investigate an incredible wild plant, the stinging nettle. Bear with me whilst I take you through it, because I promise you that you will never look at this weed in the same way ever again!

Let’s address the sting from the stinging nettle first because the image that comes to mind is a plant that’s best to avoid because of the sting that it gives you. But, unfortunately, it hides the fact that there is a lot of edible value and medicinal value in this plant. 

There are stinging hairs on the stem, the leaf petioles and leaf surfaces on the top and bottom (depending on the species). Botanically these hairs are known as Trichomes. They act like hypodermic needles. So, whenever you brush up against these hairs, there’s a silicone tip that breaks off, and these trichomes pierce the skin.

They inject a chemical cocktail with various compounds, and some neurotransmitters and acids are injected into the skin (neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, histamine, serotonin). 

stinging nettle

There are many ways of avoiding getting stung. For example, if you harvest a plant at the right time, you probably won’t get stung at all, and we will cover other ways later on.

Stinging nettle belongs to the Urticaceae family. Worldwide, there are about 54 genera and over 2,600 species. 

The stinging nettle is a perennial plant that can grow to be rather large. When it is mature, it can reach heights of two metres that are over 6 feet tall and can grow even larger than that. It grows in dense colonies connected by underground rhizomes. You will see the leaves have shades of green and purple, and purple is prominent when the plant is young.

You will typically find the stinging nettle growing almost anywhere in the UK. Usually, you will find it along streams, creeks and in other damp places. You also see plenty of it in fields and farms along fences and hedgerows and in disturbed areas of ground.

Now let’s talk about the nutritional and medicinal profile of the plant. The stinging nettle is one of the most nutritious wild plants that you can find. Without the stinging hairs to protect it, this plant would be obliterated by herbivores almost immediately. Perhaps that is why it has trichomes – perhaps to discourage herbivores that know how nutritious this plant is.  The most nutritious part of the nettle is the seeds. They contain vitamin E, and essential fatty acids which are great for your skin and your brain. A teaspoon of nettle seeds a day will give you a really good boost to your health and your nutritional intake.

Nutritionally speaking, the plant is very high in protein – about 30 – 40 per cent dry mass of the leaves. But also, it is a very high source of non-heme iron, calcium and magnesium, carotenoids.

So, we’re talking about the vitamins now, and vitamin C one of the richest sources of vitamin C that we have out here in the wild—about 238 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams of tissue. I think you will agree that it is quite high. 

Compared to a medium-sized orange, which has about 100 grams of tissue, it has about 53.2 milligrams of vitamin C. That’s good. Still, it’s nowhere near as high as 238 milligrams of vitamin C. That’s over four times the amount of vitamin C gram for gram in the stinging nettle!

When vitamin C is an essential nutrient that we all need, we cannot manufacture it ourselves. One of the ways to acquire vitamin C is to nibble on some wild plants from time to time, including the very nutritious stinging nettle.

The plant is also rich in vitamins A, D, E, F, K, P, plus vitamin B complexes (as well as vitamin C, obviously).

Let’s explore some of the extensive medical research which has been carried out on the stinging nettle and its benefits to human health. We will only focus on three areas of human health in this blog – three particular areas that have been heavily researched when it comes to this plant.

The Stinging Nettle for you Skin and Brain

The most nutritious part of the plant are the seeds. And these are excellent for both your skin, and your brain. Simply gather the seeds, then eat a teaspoonful of the seeds every day. so many people swear by the use of nettle seeds and their complexion. Try it yourself.

The Stinging Nettle and the Prostate

The first area to explore is Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia Or BPH. The BPH is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. This is a pretty serious condition. Around 50% of men by the age of 60 experience symptoms of BPH. 90% of men by the age of 85 experience symptoms of BPH.

And there are at least three, if not more, double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trials showing that the stinging nettle helps alleviate BPH symptoms. This is the gold standard when you look at double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trials on live human participants – men experiencing the benefits of stinging nettle. In most of the research, it’s the rhizome of the plant that is used and which provide the benefit for BPH, not necessarily the leaves and stems (though they may help to some degree).

If you are looking to use it to help reduce the effects of an enlarged prostate, look to the rhizome, the underground stem. You can make effective decoctions or teas. You could also make alcohol extractions as well.  

That’s a real bonus!

The Stinging Nettle and Hay Fever

Another area where we see the stinging nettle shine is when it comes to seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis. A double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial utilizing 69 human participants showed that a freeze-dried extract of the aerial portions of the plant fared better than a placebo at treating seasonal allergies. So, if you want to try it, make a simple alcohol extract of the aerial portion – summoning the leaves and maybe some of the above-ground stems. It works successfully in treating some seasonal allergies for many people.

And last but certainly not least, let’s briefly talk about the stinging nettle in the treatment of diabetes. Over the years, there have been various double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trials, for example, one showing that taking the extract could decrease certain inflammatory molecules associated with diabetes. And these inflammatory molecules would be interleukin 6 in the tumour necrosis factor. 

Another more recent study found that ingestion of the stinging nettle successfully decreased fasting blood glucose levels, decreased two-hour postprandial glucose levels, and decreased haemoglobin A1C numbers. 

The most recent study from 2016 found the ingestion of stinging nettle in women for eight weeks, and this was an alcohol/water extract. Ingestion of sting that successfully decreased fasting blood glucose levels, decreased triglyceride levels, increased HDL, which is the good cholesterol, and increased SOD or superoxide dismutase activity inside of our bodies. And SOD superoxide dismutase is a group of antioxidant enzymes essential to combat excessive oxidation inside of our bodies. And excessive oxidation is responsible for a host of degenerative conditions.

So, the humble stinging nettle is a very medicinal plant. These aren’t the only studies showing that all may benefit human health or other areas besides benign prostatic hyperplasia, besides allergies, besides diabetes, and I encourage you to look into them. And if any of these illnesses that I mention are relevant to you, do more research and see what this extraordinary plant may or may not be able to do for you.

Harvesting

So now, let’s talk about properly harvesting this plant so that you do not get stung. The best time to harvest the plant so that it tastes great and so that you do not get stung is early in the season. So in late winter to early spring, there is about a six-week window whenever this plant is about two inches tall or less. As late April approaches, the plants are getting much taller, and their trichomes are maturing, and you will get stung very easily. 

Of course – if you wear suitable gardening gloves, you will not get stung.

Once this plant does mature, you can still harvest portions of this plant from July to September. What I would recommend is to harvest the tender growing tips.

You can eat those raw, but I would probably cook them. You can harvest the more mature leaves in the summer, but they’re going to be much more mature; they will sting you much more readily. So, wear gloves and use scissors to snip them off. The best thing to do is harvest the leaves in the summertime and dry them out so that you can make teas out of them. Then, you can dehydrate the leaves and put those in a jar to save them for tea.

You can cook this plant up, and you can substitute it for anything that you would typically use spinach for. (You can’t compare to spinach, but whatever you would use spinach for, you can use Stinging Nettle for as well). 

The way to use them is by blanching them in boiling water, which neutralizes the sting completely. Rinse them off, and you can use them however you want – in smoothies, soups, etc. Add a little garlic to them, and treat them like you would use kale etc.

Stinging Nettles As a Fertilizer

Most people call it Stinking Nettle fertilizer. When you make it, you will find out why – so make sure you make it out in the open and not in your potting shed!

It pongs. But it is one of the best fertilizers that you can get. This is because the plant comes under the umbrella of being a ‘dynamic accumulator’, and its relatives are borage, yarrow, dandelion, comfrey, chickweed, etc. These plants suck up minerals and nutrients from the earth and store them in their leaves. As a result, nettles make a fantastic addition to manure teas, fertilizers, and mulch. And, of course, they are great for adding to your compost heaps.

The resultant stinky liquid from your nettle tea fertilizer will stimulate the growth of your plants and boost the plant’s health. They are also less susceptible to some diseases that plants get, pests are less attracted to your crops, and they don’t suffer as much stress in drought or excessively hot periods. 

It is easy to make. It is also free to produce.

Get a large bucket or container, and loosely fill it to the top with chopped up leaves – as small as you can get it, without it being tedious to chop up.

Add water and stir. If there are too many leaves and can’t stir it because it is too thick, take some out.

Cover with the bucket lid (not sealed), then give it a daily stir. You will see some bubbles rising to the surface when you do. It takes 7 – 14 days to mature. This happens when bubbles stop rising to the surface. Strain off the smelly liquid, and put the used leaves on your compost pile to get more use from them. Put the lid on the bucket of liquid, and you are good to go.

IMPORTANT: do not use this liquid on your plants in undiluted form – it is very strong. Use 1 part of your tea to 10 parts of water. 

Water your veg plot with the fertilizer every four weeks, but don’t be tempted to use it any more than that. The tea will store for about six months once made.

Also, if you grow fruit, use it as a green mulch around your fruit trees. It is an excellent source of nitrogen , manganese, calcium and potassium.

Here is a great video made in our local area, where nettle fertilizer is made

You can, of course, use it as a foliar spray because it is great for deterring pests such as mites and aphids. However, there are some points that you should bear in mind.

First of all, if the tea is not strained well enough, it will quickly clog up the spray nozzle. So put some through a micro-mesh. Then apply it in a mix of 1 part to 20 parts of water. 

Please don’t put it on plants like lettuce, kale etc. (your leafy greens). Use it only on peppers, aubergines, cucumbers and tomatoes. 

If you don’t have any nettles that you can get hold of, try the other plants in that family (discussed above). Comfrey and borage are great, so is yarrow.

There is much more that we can talk about regarding this great, underrated plant. I would encourage you to explore it further, both as a dietary product and as a medicinal product – and of course, as a natural fertilizer.

I do not have the time to gather fresh nettles to make the teas for consumption, so I take it in supplement form every day – and it works wonders for me. Many others attest to its efficacy for treating the prostate, the intake of vitamin C as a preventative, the reduction of hay fever, and even to reduce hair loss. It is suitable for fighting bacterial infections, reducing inflammation caused by arthritis, etc. – but you need to discover the benefits for yourself.

I get mine from Amazon here (I am not an agent) as I have found that it is probably the best one on the market.

If you want to make a tea with nettles as a drink, it is easy. Pick the tops of the plant, and simply put them in a cup, and add boiling water, then let it steep for a while. Add some honey, then drink it…

For more information or assistance with this article, or if you want to add something that you feel is relevant, we would love to hear from you via the Contact Us page.

Source: Springer

06/20/2021 | Blog / MAKE COMPOST | 0 Comments

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