Also published on The Wild Wortwyf
Scientific Name: Urtica dioica
Folk Names: Stinging Nettle, Common Nettle, Burn Weed, Burn Nettle
Actions: Astringent, Diuretic, Tonic, Nutritive, Circulatory Stimulant, Promotes Milk Flow, Lowers Blood Sugar, Helps with Menstrual Cramping
Parts Used: Leaf, Root, Seed
The stinging nettle is the bane of all gardeners, it’s painful when it comes in contact with your skin and grows wild wherever it takes a foothold. It’s a late autumn/winter herbaceous perennial (flowering) and the best known plant of the Urtica genus. The stinging comes from the hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stem of the nettle injecting histamine and other compounds into the skin which creates the stinging sensation. The stinging nettle grows between 1 to 2 metres and has leaves that range from 3 to 15cm – a yard full of them is quite the impressive sight. In the country, around my home and yard, nettle is left to grow wildly, harvested for many a herbal remedy. I love nettle because it is so incredibly versatile, not to mention the lush green colour.
Although the nettle has been much maligned, it is a hugely helpful and industrious worker. It has a long history of being used as medicine, food, rope and fibre. It’s an excellent tonic for the hair, helping control dandruff and adding shine. An old remedy for conditioning the hair is nettle leaf steeped in apple cider vinegar and used as a rinse. I love using it in hair products, it does beautifully. It’s also incredibly nourishing with plenty of vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium (it is also got a fair bit of protein) – in fact it is said that nettle is better for you than spinach, I like it sautéed with a bit of garlic and butter, makes a rather lovely soup too. If you’re a lover of the brew, nettle beer could be for you, a favourite in country Britain. In fact, nettle is one of the herbs in the Anglo Saxon Nine Herbs Charm:
This is the herb that is called 'Wergulu'.
A seal sent it across the sea-right,
a vexation to poison, a help to others.
it stands against pain, it dashes against poison,
it has power against three and against thirty,
against the hand of a fiend and against mighty devices,
against the spell of mean creatures.
Nettle is also fantastic for use during allergy season. A tincture can be made up of the herb or a tea of nettle and chamomile drunk prior to and during the season to alleviate allergy symptoms. A powerful antioxidant, a cup of nettle a day is said to flush the system however being that nettle is a diuretic it is drying, so if you suffer from dry skin or other dry conditions, adding a mucilage herb like marshmallow or mullein. I should caution that nettle can taste like grass when drunk in an infusion. It’s not particularly unpleasant but it could do with additional flavouring – I prefer honey most of the time in teas and infusions.
Susun Weed (one of my favourite herbalists) has said “Use Nettle leaves as an everyday nourisher, an energetic changer, a marvelous kidney/adrenal ally, a digestive restorative, a respiratory strengthener, an ally for women, a hair and skin nourisher, and a prompt hemostatic."
For the gardeners out there, nettle is a wonderfully nutritive composting herb. It has quite a lot of nitrogen, as a liquid fertilizer, nettle in low in phosphate but adds much needed magnesium, sulphur and iron to the soil. A solid, healthy patch of nettles tends to lend itself to healthy, fertile soil, so before they get too large (and seed) turn over the patch and create a vegetable or herb garden – incidentally, nettle is also a good companion plant and attracts beneficial insects. All round, nettle is a brilliant herb for the home, health, beauty and the garden. If you’re an enthusiastic textiles makers, nettle is also great for that as well.