Taming the Nettles

Picture of my nettle bed

In the best tradition of the healing herbs, nettles are a force, a high water tide, a plant that has something to say and says it with strength and eloquence. I have a sea of nettles and it occurred to me I should better relate to it rather than argue with it for being where it shouldn’t. While I was awkwardly limping around on my injured knee, I kept wondering how I would ever carve two new beds out of the nettle ocean.  But then  I remembered that I actually wanted this plant, and started it from seed four or five years ago (with seed from Horizon Herbs). Trying to find a way to get extra minerals and vitamins without having to resort to the high prices of inorganic, non-plant based capsules and pills, I thought nettles might be a good substitute.

As Susun Weed describes in her animated and lively book, Healing Wise (Wise Woman Herbal Series), (still in print since 1989), nettles is very high in calcium and magnesium. The amounts are so high, 2900 milligrams of calcium, and 860 milligrams of magnesium in one serving of cooked nettles, that they are very comparable to taking a mineral supplement. Another herbalist (with a strangely similar name), Susan E. Mead, states on her site LINK that one quart of infusion made with one ounce of dried herb (about a cup) has 2,000 milligrams of calcium (and about 700 milligrams of magnesium). Made into a nettle vinegar by filling a quart jar with nettle leaves and pouring apple cider vinegar over it to fill the jar, and letting it sit for six weeks, one tablespoon of this vinegar will have 150-200 milligrams of calcium with about a third less of magnesium (the 3:1 calcium to magnesium ratio is considered excellent by nutritionists). This vinegar making process is explained with recipes in another Susan Weed book, New Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way: Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90 (Wise Woman Herbal Series, Book 5) (Wise Woman Ways)
I’m sure I can throw out my calcium/magnesium supplements or at least use them much less often if I have lots of nettle around – which I  do!  I’ve been drying it in my food dryer, an Excaliber , which works great. The leaves, which I remove from the stalk, take only about 2 hours at 100 degrees to get dry, green, and crispy. They make a great tea, especially with some mint added. My husband loves it and it saves money on store teas.  I’ve also started some nettle vinegar and lightly steamed some to freeze. Nettles make a great soup stock, with or without other vegetables. I sometimes just add a piece of Kombu seaweed, simmer it all together for twenty minutes or so and then strain out the vegetables. Vegetable stock can be made quickly, in comparison to stock with bones, which takes a couple of hours to extract the constituents ( I learned this by listening to the NPR radio program, Splendid Table.)

Nettles are also high in protein, having 10.2 %, vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, silica, and trace minerals such as copper, iron, and sulfur. I was surprised to see it also has vitamin K 1 , an important bone and cardiovascular vitamin. Most people don’t get nearly enough of this vitamin. Read more about the difference between vitamin K1 and K2. I still take Jarrow brand vitamin K2 from Iherb.com, but may cut back a bit if I get plenty of K1 from nettles. To get vitamin K1 from nettles, it is best to use nettles in its raw form, such as the vinegar. One tablespoon of vinegar with a little honey or agave nectar in a glass of water tastes really great. Taken just before eating, the K1 is better absorbed because of the oils in a meal. Details, details, details.

By now, I am starting to wonder if I have enough nettles! But Steven Foster in his book, Herbal Renaissance, Growing, Using & Understanding Herbs in the Modern World, suggests four cuttings a year. I am just snipping off the top five inches or so and letting them grow back, which they do quickly.

I am also using nettles on the garden soil and in compost. It is supposed to be a compost activator and provide excellent rich humus. I’ve been using some as sheet compost around my tomato plants. My tomato plants often (make that always, lately) get the infamous tomato blight. So here is one more potential preventative. Rudolf  Steiner, the founder of Bio dynamic farming, considered nettles to have unique healing qualities for plants as well as humans. I would think the calcium and other minerals would be just as good for the soil and soil microbes as they are for people.

I should mention that nettles have a curious sting – it’s their tiny hairs containing formic acid and histamine. But the stings are actually considered healthy by some. I just wear gloves. The sting is rendered null and void by drying or cooking. It is very expressive after all.  If growing it does not seem in the cards, it can be purchased dried in fine organic form from Pacific Botanicals.

An ancient law of nature states that if nature delivers a malady, nature also must provide a cure. It is very curious that I have been so aware of both clay and nettle since I fell and hurt my knee. Now, two weeks later, my knee is almost normal after clay poultices and nettle tea. Sometimes, the cures are all around us, but are still strangely unseen.

2 thoughts on “Taming the Nettles

  1. I came to this page via Bing and just wanted to take some time to thank you for giving these great growing tips. I will be sure email this site to my friends. Thank you again!

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