Stinging nettles grow in an awful lot of places – Britain, Europe, Asia, North America, Australia, South Africa and Japan. They will grow in river valleys and on mountainsides, in farmyards, hedgerows, roadsides, woods, ruined buildings and any patch of wasteland.
They normally grow around 2-4’ high but in the forests they can grow much, much higher. The plant has square, fibrous stems and long, sharply toothed, heartshaped leaves, both the stems and the leaves are covered with coarse stinging hairs. In summer nettles have bunches of small green catkins with male and female flowers on separate plants. Several types of butterfly choose the nettle as the food for their caterpillars won which to lay their eggs.
In the story The Wild Swans written by Hans Anderson, the princess has to weave a coat out of nettles for each of the eleven swans. Since early times the people of Eastern Europe have believed in the power of nettles as protection. In the Balkans, nettles were applied as a local anaesthetic.
The early herbals are full of nettle remedies – a broth for scurvy, a daily dose of nettle juice for cancer, the nostrils plugged with lint dipped in the juice for nose bleeds, paralysed limbs to be stung with them to regain movement and various bizarre treatments to increase a libido!
The British chemical industry still uses nettles in a chemical treatment – used to colour fats, oils, soaps and foodstuffs.
Medicinally the leaves, seeds and roots are used to treat a wide range of conditions including anaemia, arthritis, asthma, burns, eczema, infections, inflammations, kidney stones, prostate enlargement, rheumatism and urinary problems.
Nettle was the Anglo Saxon sacred herb, wergulu, and in medieval times nettle beer was drunk for rheumatism. Nettle tops helped milk to sour, as a rennet substitute in cheese making. Nettle leaves brought fruit to ripening and were used to pack plums, and as a whole plant makes an excellent compost or green manure.
Nettles high vitamin C content made it a valuable spring tonic for our ancestors. Nettle soup and porridge were popular spring tonic purifiers.
Nettles also have an antihistamine effect, valuable for treating hayfever and other allergies. They can help reduce the severity of asthma attacks. For treating hayfever they combine well with elderflower.
Nettles enhance natural immunity, nettle tea drunk at the start of a fever is beneficial. Nettles also reduce blood sugar levels and stimulate the circulation, which supports treatments of diabetes. They also dilate the peripheral blood vessels and promote elimination of urine, which helps lower high blood pressure.
Nettles have long been considered a blood tonic and are a wonderful treatment for anaemia, as they are high in both iron and chlorophyll. The iron in nettles is very easily absorbed and assimilated.
The root is a leading herbal treatment for enlarged prostate, taken on its own as a tincture or with saw palmetto (serenoa repens).
Stinging nettles help clear the blood of urates and toxins, partly through stimulating the kidneys. Nettle tops make a tea for treating gout and arthritis.
Dried Nettle Tea
Dried nettles make a dark green beverage that tastes very tea like.
2 teaspoons dried nettle leaves to ½ pint boiling water. Infuse for 5 minutes, strain and drink hot.
Nettle Rinse & Hair Tonic
Use as a final rinse after shampooing your hair and reserve a small quantity to rub into the scalp and comb through the hair every other day. After a week or two your hair will acquire an extra shine of health.
Pick a big handful sized bunch of nettles, wash thoroughly and put the whole bunch into a saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and cool a little, then pour the infusion into bottles with corks or screw caps.