Eat Your Nettles! Urtica dioica
Urtica dioica is the scientific name for those pesky stinging nettles that get you painfully in the summertime. However, there are tremendous benefits to these nettlesome plants that may bring some happiness to your life.
Stinging nettles are a common species, growing wildly in a bunch of countries and in the Pacific Northwest of North America. They are perennial plants with rhizomes and grow in forests, along stream banks, and alongside marshes.
Like mint, they have a square stem, and two leaves opposite each other in a ladder along the stalk. Unlike mint, their leaves and stem have giant trichomes, which are hollow hairs that secrete fluid. Stinging nettles secrete histamines and other chemicals that produce a stinging, burning sensation, and subsequent rash.
Edible and Medicinal Nettles
Stinging nettles are a well known edible and medicinal plant. They are an excellent spring flush of your system after winter foods and stressful conditions. If stinging nettles are eaten for several days in a row, they have maximum detoxifying effect, increasing amounts you consume each time. If you have stored winter fat, it along with toxins, metals, etc. will get flushed from your filter organs.
Stinging nettles are known to have blood purifying effects, to be healing on the cardiovascular system, and to cleanse the kidney’s. Stinging nettles are known to be medicinal for conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism, urinary tract infections, and gout.
Stinging nettles contain a variety of healthy and healing chemicals, vitamins. They are rich in vitamins C, B, K, E and carotene, like in carrots. They are also higher in protein than most plant greens.
After eating your stinging nettles, be weary of fatigue, changes in hormone, or other mild but potentially noticeable ‘side effects’ of the flush. Your system should be rejuvenated after a few days.
When and How to Harvest Nettles?
Because stinging nettles sting, it is best to wear leather or thick plastic gloves while picking them. Stinging nettles sprout in the springtime and spring is the best time to harvest them. The uppermost primary bud will grow vertically and secondary leaves fan out horizontally. The uppermost bud is the part of the plant to harvest, because it contains the most nutrition and the fan leaves have developed different chemical composition, or have become fibrous or stringy. Harvesting the top bud only, allows the plant to continue growing, and to flower, and reproduce.
Although they are not eaten by wildlife, stinging nettles are eaten by insect larvae and caterpillars such as Lepidoptera sp., butterflies and moths. Harvesting early, and only the buds also avoids conflict and negative consequences for these beautiful and equally medicinal creatures.
Stung By Your Stinging Nettles?
Ouch! Stinging nettles are nettlesome because of the reaction caused in the body when in contact with the chemicals and histamines in the plant. If you have been stung by one, your body produces combative antihistamines causing a rash. To avoid the rash and lessen the pain there are a few common natural folk wild and household remedies that will diminish the painful effects.
Before beginning to pick your nettles, look around for a wild, natural remedy. Known common remedies include plant species such as Dock (Rumex sp.) and Jewel Weed (Impatiens capensis, and Impatiens pallida). But you shouldn’t have to take a Botany class just to identify your remedy.
Everyone knows what ferns look like. Ferns have spores on the underside of their leaves called sori. These sori are so small that they absorb the stinging nettle oils off the skin. Different ferns produce sori at different times of year.
Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) is a tree fern that grows in Big Leaf Maple trees and produces sori in springtime when nettles should be picked. Sword fern produce sori in summer when nettles are most painful. If ferns and their spores are rubbed on your skin immediately when stung they are most effective. If no wild remedies are available, last resort common household remedies include mud and baking soda pastes, which draw out excess oils.
How to Prepare and Eat Your Nettles
Stinging nettles have been a staple in many peoples spring diets for centuries. They can be incorporated into any dish like spinach or basil. Because stinging nettles sting, they must be cooked, soaked in water, or dried to render them. Drying the buds and soaking them as tea for consumption is a great alternative if flavor is undesirable to eat in a dish. Although sometimes more fishy flavored, stinging nettles along stream banks as opposed to in forested hillsides or hypoxic marshes have better nutritional value. Enjoy!