Nettle – Build Inner Strength
March is the height of nettle season. Look closely on the forest floor and you will notice deep green and reddish shoots emerging—a welcome sign of spring. Nettles provide nutrients that help us to feel strong and energetic. Harvesting nettles or walking through a nettle patch requires mindfulness. The sting wakes us up and helps us to be fully present in the moment.
You can find nettles (Urtica dioica) in fields, streambeds, and disturbed areas with rich wet soil from the coast into the mountains. They grow three to nine feet tall and have opposite deep-green leaves with serrated edges, tiny greenish flowers, and square stems. The stalk and underside of the leaves are covered with stinging hairs that rise from a gland containing formic acid and other compounds.
Nettles are often called a “superfood.” Spinach is considered the most nutritious green in grocery stores but it pales in comparison to nettles, which are 29 times higher in calcium, 8 times higher in magnesium, 3 times higher in potassium, and almost double in their potassium content! Nettles are also exceptionally high in the trace minerals chromium, cobalt, zinc, and manganese. They have a delicious flavor and can be used in cooked dishes in a similar way to spinach and kale.
Nettles are a medicine that can help bring the body back to a state of balance. If someone is feeling debilitated or generally worn down, nettles are a good remedy. They are tonic to the liver, blood, and kidneys. Nettles balance blood pH and assist our kidneys in filtering waste from the body and removing excess fluid retention. They can be especially useful for arthritis, gout, eczema, and skin rashes. Nettles reduce inflammation, helping to alleviate the symptoms of allergies including hay fever. Drink two cups of nettle tea a day starting early in the spring and continuing into the allergy season. Nettles are also used to stop bleeding. A strong decoction is traditionally used to treat wounds and hemorrhage. They can also help rebuild blood after menstruation, birth, or other blood loss. Nettle roots are anti-inflammatory—especially for the prostate.
Harvesting and Preparation: Just in case you have not encountered nettles, they will sting you! You can use gloves or scissors and a basket or a bag to harvest. Once cooked or dried, nettles completely lose their sting.
Gather nettles to eat fresh before they flower in April to May. Do not gather nettles in agricultural or industrial areas because they may absorb inorganic nitrites and heavy metals. Make sure you have permission to harvest on the land you are on and leave enough for the plant community to continue to thrive. You may want to offer a gift in exchange for what you are receiving. For some people, this means saying a prayer, picking up garbage, or removing invasive species from the area. Cut or pinch the nettles just above the bottom two leaves. This will allow the remaining plant to photosynthesize and grow back. Rinse the nettles in a colander to remove dirt.
Ways to prepare nettles for food include boiling, steaming, and sautéing them. They only need to be boiled for a few minutes, as the “sting” will quickly evaporate with heat. Nettles will cook down like spinach and can be used in soups, dips, quiches, casseroles, egg scrambles, etc.
Nettles can be dried, canned, or blanched and frozen. To freeze them, submerge in boiling water for a minute. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove them and dunk them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain, place in freezer bags, and label. The water used for cooking nettles makes delicious tea or broth.
To dry nettle leaves for tea, harvest before they flower in late spring to early summer when they are about 8–14 inches tall. Bundle stems and hang them upside down in a dark, dry place, or place them in a paper bag and rotate them every day. Once they are dried use gloves to strip the leaves from stems. Use 1 tablespoon of leaves per cup of boiled water. Steep 15 minutes to several hours. Drink 1–3 cups a day.
Toss this flavorful sauce with pasta, potatoes, or cooked vegetables, or spread on crackers or fresh vegetables.
1 small bag (about 6 cups) of young fresh nettles, rinsed
1 bunch basil, stems removed, washed, and drained
½ cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
⅓ cup walnuts or pine nuts
⅓ cup of extra virgin olive oil
1–3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse nettles in a strainer, then boil them in water (blanch) for one minute to remove the sting. Drain well, let cool, and roughly chop. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place the pesto in a clean jar and pour a little extra olive oil over the top. Cover with a lid. This will keep for 2–3 weeks in the refrigerator.
Spring Nettle Soup
This simple soup is a perfect energizing food for springtime. It is easy to make and has a nice, smooth texture when blended.
1 bag of fresh nettles (plastic grocery sized)
3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
2 large onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
8-10 cups water or broth
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups corn
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash nettles in a colander, chop with scissors, and set aside. In a large soup pot, sauté onions and garlic until tender. Add corn, potatoes, nettles, and water or broth then bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Blend all ingredients in a blender or a food processor. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. You can add other vegetables like celery, carrots, and squash.
Learning from Nettle – Build Inner Strength
Nettles assist us in building inner strength not only through providing powerful nutrients, but also through helping us to be more mindful. Being stung by nettles enlivens your skin and promotes circulation. The sting may hold your attention on physical sensations and assist you in being fully present in your body. Being in a state of mindfulness helps us to build inner strength. When we become more aware of our inner world, we can notice our thoughts and feelings, and access our inner wisdom.
- What feelings am I having now and where do I feel them?
- How are my thoughts and feelings helping me?
- What are they teaching me?