Seasonal Harvest: Stinging Nettles
by Judi Epstein, MSN, ARNP
Stinging nettle is a wild food that is amazingly nourishing and medicinal. It is quite abundant in early spring and now through early May is the optimal time to gather it fresh in nature.
Nettle is highly anti-inflammatory and rich in phytonutrients and minerals, including magnesium and calcium. Nettle is particularly rich in B vitamins, folate, potassium, iron, beta carotene, sulphur, vitamin C and other antioxidants. Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years for different health concerns and is known to help alleviate seasonal allergies and hayfever, as it acts as a natural antihistamine (source: http://umm.edu/
Nettles contain formic acid, an evolutionary measure that helps to insure the plant’s survival by deterring predation and stinging any skin it comes into contact with. As the leaves grow larger later in the season, the formic acid content increases and consuming nettles becomes less desirable. The next 3-4 weeks into early May is the perfect time to collect and use nettles while the leaves are still small.
Due to its stinging potential, it is important to take extra precautions when harvesting and working with nettle. I recommend wearing gloves, long sleeves, long pants and boots when gathering these plants in nature. Once it is cooked, nettle loses its sting and can be handled and eaten without issue.
Though the use of herbs is a time honored approach to treating disease as well as strengthening and tonifying the body, they can sometimes trigger side effects or interactions with other herbs, medications or supplements. It is important to consult your health care provider and take herbs with care.
Try the nettle-infused tea below if you are experiencing springtime allergies.
Stinging Nettle Infused Tea
1 cup fresh nettles (or 1/2 cup dry)
1/2 cup fresh mint (or 1/4 cup dry), any variety*
2 quarts of water (filtered water is preferred)
1/2 gallon jar
Local raw honey (optional)
Bring water to a boil. Place the nettles and mint in the jar and fill with the boiling water. Allow the herbs to steep for at least 4 hours, and up to 12 hours. Strain and sweeten to taste with local raw honey. Refrigerate your tea infusion and drink cold, or warm it up and enjoy!
*I like to add mint to the infusion, another source of deep nutrition. Traditionally mint was used to ease digestive upset and its faintly sedative effect works wonders for calming one’s nerves. Mint is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and there are many different varieties to choose from. In the summertime when fresh basil is abundant, try substituting the basil for the mint. It is an unusual combination of flavors and quite refreshing.
Dried nettles, mint and basil can be purchased online at Mountain Rose Herbs.
Nettles images from: