If you’ve encountered stinging nettles by accident while walking or gardening, the word gift is probably not the first thing that pops into your head. Tiny stinging hairs cover the plant and brushing against them releases the plant’s venom. The sting contains formic acid, the same chemical as a bee sting, and can be very painful. But that outer packaging disguises a prickly gift….a wonderful food, medicinal herb, and plant ally.
Nettles have a list of great attributes, not the least of which is they are inexpensive. Like most of the weedy medicinal plants, they grow easily and prolifically and most people want to get rid of them instead of recognizing their gifts.
What is so Special about Stinging Nettles?
I remember hearing herbalist David Hoffman speaking about nettles years ago at Green Nations Gathering. He said if he was on a dessert island and could have only one herb it would be nettles.
Stinging nettles help the body detoxify and are known as a spring tonic, but can be used throughout the year for that purpose. The plant is an ally for the kidneys and gallbladder. It has diuretic properties and also can help the body break down kidney and gall stones. The plant also is anti-inflammatory and helps with arthritis, muscle soreness, and other similar conditions. Nettles are high in minerals which helps build healthy bones. They also been used to treat and heal a variety of respiratory conditions. (1) That’s just the short list of healing qualities.
They are easy to use as food, once you get past the stinging part. Nettles can be substituted in recipes for any other cooked greens, like spinach. Tea can be made from the fresh or dried plant. I’m drinking a cup as I write this post.
If you’ve never used fresh nettles before, the first thing to know is that the sting disappears when the plant is cooked or made into tea. Most people wear gloves when harvesting the fresh leaves, however it is possible to harvest without. If you want to miss the fun of harvesting this fresh prickly gift, dried nettles can be found at most herbal shops.
Other Prickly Gifts in My Life
What fascinates me the most about nettles is that they have been used for food, fiber, and medicine for over 3,000 years. (2) That means even with their prickly nature, early humans figured out that they were a gift. So harvesting my first spring batch of nettles inspired my focus words for the week.
What things in my life are prickly or challenging but have hidden gifts if I look more closely? My mindful intention for the week is to be aware and grateful of the prickly gifts.
For more information on my year long Mindfulness Focus Work Experiment click here.
Footnotes and more information on Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica):