“When In Doubt, Try Nettles!”

That quip was pronounced by David Hoffman, herbal guru of immense proportion, at the International Herbal Symposium some years ago. While his audience laughed at the statement, they also nodded their heads.  Few herbs rival nettle’s outstanding nutrition and and safety. As a budding herbalist some decades ago, this was one of the first natural medicines in my cupboard. I drank copious amounts of the tea, and enjoyed it as a spring vegetable as well.

Time goes by, and so many herbs hit the news headlines, with all sorts of fancy sliver-bullet chemicals isolated from them, that one might easily forget humble nettle. Well, humble with a nip, of course!  We must remember her sting! The leaves of this plant are loaded with minerals, including iron, making it a perfect adrenal and blood tonic.  Touted by some as a  “super-food,” this plant makes an effective Spring tonic.  Forget swallowing tons of fancy green capsules of plants you have never heard of.  Try wild-crafting, or growing your own patch of nettles.

For women this herb nourishes those who are worn out, anemic, over-stressed or inflamed.  As such it is as appropriate for a young women with heavy menstrual periods as it is for a post-menopausal woman with hot flashes. It has long been prescribed as a uterine tonic for the pregnant mama, warding off anemia and strengthening the tone of her womb. Since this “medicine” is truly a food, it is as safe, or even safer to use both during pregnancy and with children, as spinach.

For men, the roots and seeds, rich in zinc, offer support for a healthy prostate. The zinc can also help mouth ulcers heal more quickly.  But perhaps the most popular and well-known reason to employ nettle medicine lies in the season it appears: hay fever.  Both herbal and homeopathic preparations of the leaves are revered by allergy sufferers, who turn to this simple remedy when all else fails. For best effect, drink copious amounts of the tea, and supplement with quercitin capsules.  Relief will be swift and sure in all but the toughest allergic constitutions. 

Be forewarned, the fresh plants are loaded with tiny spiny hairs, loaded with a venom that stings the skin when brushed up against it.  Although the sting will make you jump, for most people it the rash it produces is short-lived, albeit itchy and disconcerting.  Historically, the nettle-rash is reputed to have healing powers for arthritic joints and achey muscles.  Some harvesters use bare hands for this very reason, although I’m not sure I have the nerve to try it. Once the plant is dried, steamed, mashed or wilted, it’s sting disappears leaving a marvelously delicious edible plant

If you haven’t already, make friends with nettle.  If you are interested in growing it, check out my interview with Andrea Reisen from Healing Spirits Herb Farm on GingerJuice. She also offers two great tasting teas made from nettles and other goodies – one for women and one for allergy sufferers. After visiting with her, I couldn’t stop thinking about nettles.  They’d fallen by the wayside of my herbal practice.  I already have ordered a bag of her tea, and you can bet a few of my patients this month will find nettles in their custom formula.

Since there are so many benefits and uses to this marvelous plant, please help me out by sharing your own nettle wisdom here.  Let’s learn from each other!

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