In nature plants offer unique and valuable attributes in maintaining health and wellbeing for ecosystems, humans, and other creatures.
One such plant is the stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. Over the past month or so you may have seen the increase of nettles growing.
The stinging nettle is highly nutritious, easy to identify and often available in abundance.
The name is derived from the Latin word “Ure”, meaning “burn”, while the common name “nettle” is from the Anglo-Saxon word for “needle” – likely because of the plant’s burning sting.
Nettle is covered in tiny hollow hairs, which act like hypodermic needles that inject a stinging substance containing formic acid when you come into contact with them. The sting of the nettle is unpleasant, but usually wears off fairly quickly. A small rash can appear.
The nettle contains more protein than almost any other green leaf, has large amounts of chlorophyll (a great antioxidant), vitamin A, several Bs, lots of C and D and an abundance of minerals including calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, and sulphur. It is one of the richest plant sources of iron.
Nettles are only edible fresh when they are young – early to late spring, as when the plant grows and gets tougher, inedible crystal deposits are formed in the leaves. It takes a few seconds of cooking to render the sting impotent.
Nettle has been used as a substitute for spinach in many recipes. The dried powdered leaves make a nutritious tea and can be added to soups and sauces to increase their nutritional value.
Nettle has traditionally been used as a detoxifying spring tonic and to treat arthritis and gout. The greens are a mild laxative and it’s a useful food for those suffering from anemia. It is also used externally as a wound herb to stop bleeding.
Nettle is an excellent source of fibre for cordage, rope, netting, paper, sail cloth, sack cloth and even fine fabrics. The fibres can be extracted and prepared in the same way as flax (Linum).
Nettle hay is rich in protein and therefore used as a supplement in animal feed. It is said to increase the disease resistance, weight and general health of cows, poultry, and most other animals.
It is one of the best companion plants for the garden and is an indicator of rich, acidic soil. Its leaf litter decays into especially rich humus (with an abundance of nitrogen, potassium, and other minerals) enriching the soil it grows in. You can make an excellent liquid fertiliser from nettles.
To grow this plant, you can transplant or take root cuttings from one growing nearby. They like rich moist soil and grow in full sun or deep shade.
Be careful though as nettles can be invasive.
Next time you see a stinging nettle, hopefully you will appreciate its many uses and grab some to make a tea. •
Source: Uses of Wild Plants.