How to Harvest & Process Stinging Nettle

Nettle is one of those magical plants that gives us more than the effort we put into harvesting it. It’s no wonder that nettle has been used worldwide for centuries as a potent medicine, documented as far back as Ancient Greece. Nettle can be eaten as a nutrient-dense food, woven into cloth, applied to the skin, drunk as a tea, made into a tincture, or dried and put into capsules.

Growing season is June through September, though in some regions it can be harvested throughout the year.

Medicinal Benefits of Nettle

Nettle contains more protein than nearly all other plant species and is brimming with vitamins and nutrients.

Some useful properties include: anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiseptic, antioxidant, antimicrobial, trophorestorative to kidneys and adrenal glands,  diuretic, promotes neurotransmitters, and more.

Studies have proven that nettle can be used to relieve certain health conditions, including: arthritis, muscular and joint pain, rheumatism, urinary issues, eczema, hay fever, anemia, and more.

NUTRITION CONTENT

1. Vitamins A, B complex, C, E, K
2. Protein
3. Folic Acid
4. Histamine
5. Anti-inflammatory compounds
6. Dietary fiber
7. Neurotransmitters, including 5HTP (serotonin)
8. Iron
9. Calcium

Harvesting Techniques

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The whole plant can be harvested for medicinal use–leaves, stems, and roots. It’s good to know that if treating a specific medical condition, the above-ground parts have different pharmacological benefits than the below-ground parts. Generally, the leaves and stems provide relief for allergies and breathing issues, and the roots provide urinary relief.

Always wear thick gloves and long sleeves!

According to Mountain Rose Herbs, it’s best to collect nettle leaves just before it flowers or just after the first flowering. Nettles that are too old become stringy and less palatable for eating.

If you plan to start a nettle patch of your own, collect seeds by cutting off the flowering top and hanging them upside down. The seeds will fall out as the plant dries.

If you are a beginner at identifying nettle, the one sure way to know the plant is to very lightly touch it. I do not recommend this! However, it will resolve any worries about improper identification. The sting does hurt, but it’s not so bad. To alleviate the pain, rub the underside of a fern on the area. Baking soda paste also helps. The sting should go away within 15 to 20 minutes.

How to Process Your Harvest

Before ingesting nettle, neutralize the sting by soaking, cooking, wilting, refrigerating,  or drying the plant.  The leaves and stems can be made into soup, eaten on salad, or made into a tea. The roots can be dried and made into a tincture, tea, or powdered into capsules.

NETTLE TEA

nettletea
Courtesy of Shutterstock

Nettle leaf tea is the most common way to consume nettles, and a favorite of many herbalists!

Nettle leaves can be dried or used fresh.

  1. Wash the nettles with gloved hands to neutralize the sting and remove any bugs or dirt.
  2. Boil 1 cup of leaves in about 16 oz of water (enough for two mugs) for 10-15 minutes. Or, simply pour boiling water over the leaves and let steep for about 10-15 minutes. Feel free to adjust the steep time to strengthen or lighten the flavor.
  3. Strain out the leaves and enjoy! Add a sweetener if you wish.

COOKED NETTLES

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Courtesy of Daniel Zemans

There are so many incredible nettle recipes out there. It’s inspiring to see the range of foods that nettle can be woven into. From what I’ve seen, blanching nettles before cooking is the best way to go. Once blanched, transfer to a thin kitchen towel and squeeze out the moisture. Go ahead and cook the nettles right away, or even freeze them for later.

Here are some links to some great basic recipes:

Nettle Pesto Recipe by Hank Shaw
Nettle Soup by the Kitchn
Sauteed Stinging Nettles by Christina Gallary
Pizza with Garlic Cream and Nettles by Food & Wine

NETTLE TINCTURE

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Tincture can be made with either the roots or the leaves.

According to Filip Tkaczyk of the Alderleaf Wildnerness College, “tincture is typically an alcoholic extract of plants for use as medicine. The alcohol acts as a solvent, extracting primarily the medicinal components such as alkaloids, glycosides, minerals, and essential oils. Other solvents can be used in place of alcohol, such as vinegar or glycerin, though they are typically less effective at extracting medicinal constituents of plants.”

Below are two well-written articles that outline the simple tincture making process.

How to Make Nettle Leaf Tincture by Nina Nelson

Nettles, Burdock, & How to Make Tinctures That Actually Work and Don’t Taste Like Death
by Old Ways Herbal

 

A Few Cautions

1.Avoid if you are pregnant unless you speak to a doctor, as nettles have been known cause contractions and miscarriage.
2. Avoid if you are diabetic, as nettle interacts with the body’s blood sugar.
3. Nettle may interact with the following medications: NSAID’s, diuretics, sedatives, lithium, blood thinners, and blood pressure medication.

As with any new herb, try a small amount before ingesting a large quantity to ensure that no allergies are present.

Sources that are not linked above…
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4708629/
2. https://draxe.com/stinging-nettle/
3. http://www.livestrong.com/article/440537-nettle-tea-benefits-and-warnings/

Feature photo Courtesy of Thomas Dahms

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