We have been craving this plant. Everything about its deep rich green colour packed full of nutrients as food and as a medicinal ally appeals to us. Consuming this plant always makes us feel healthy, strong, and ready to face the world.
Strangely, over the last few years we have had a difficult time tracking down stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). While we have had access to wood nettle which has similar properties, we’ve only ever been able to find sparse patches of nettle, until now.
We came to the Stone Boat Farm Artist Retreat hoping to find stinging nettle on the property and had been speaking about this plant with our host Amy Nostbakken. Amy asked us about our luck finding any on our first few wanderings, which had been fruitless.
“How do you identify them?” she asked.
“Well,” we said, “Definitely the most obvious way is by the stings."
“Ohhhhhhhhh!!" said Amy, "I know that plant! I always thought it was poison ivy. My brother and I would get stung by them all over our legs when climbing the apple trees!”
And so, we ventured over to the shady apple trees and sure enough we came across an enormous patch of stinging nettle.
While we weren’t too concerned about the population of stinging nettle, we still aimed to harvest only the tops - pinching them just above the intersection of the fine toothed slightly heart shaped leaves. This ensures that the plant will continue producing and also prevents it from going to flower. This is important if you want to harvest the leaves from the same plant throughout the season as some claim that after flowering, stinging nettle leaves contain cystoliths which could irritate the kidneys. However, this compound is destroyed after drying, so does not pose the same concern for dried tea.
Courtney harvests stinging nettle with her bare hands, making claims to the antihistamine properties of nettle stings and their ability to increase circulation and ease joint pain. Others prefer to use gloves as the hairs on the nettle stalks and leaves contain formic acid which cause quite a bit of irritation that can last for anywhere from a few minutes to several days. We don't worry too much about that, as one of the antidotes to nettle stings is the juice from nettle itself!
We decided to see if we could transplant a few because we love the idea of having a nettle patch in our home gardens.
“It’s so funny because before we went up to Stone Boat I’d been reading about nettle in terms of kidney cleansing and supporting liver and skin, and I couldn't find any here in Toronto. I work in an organic grocery store part-time and checked the Big Carrot. I went all over the city to different health food stores and wasn't able to find it anywhere. And then I came out here and there were whole fields of nettle." Nyda laughs at the overwhelming abundance of stinging nettle.
"Because I work with my body I want to feed it everything I can that is going to support it. It's mainly for the health benefits of nettle that I will keep seeking it out, and I want to plant the one that I have.”
We brought our bounty back to the farmhouse and made some delicious mineral-rich medicinal tea by pouring boiling water over the leaves. Nettle loses its stinging properties the moment it is cooked or covered with hot water.
Like most wild-crafted foods, nettle contains substantially more nutrients than many other known "superfoods" including iron and calcium (much more than spinach and kale) magnesium, silica, vitamins, phosphorus, trace minerals, and protein. It is used to treat anemia, rheumatic ailments such as arthritis and gout, and various skin conditions including acne and eczema. Nettle also has antihistamine properties and we've used it to both treat and prevent seasonal allergies.
In an effort to consume nettle in every possible form, we fried up a bunch of the leaves with dandelion buds and flowers, and wild leeks for lunch.
We cannot begin to sing this plant’s glory enough, and this one article by no means covers its diverse uses and applications. We put some nettle aside to dry for future recipes and will continue to write about it in future posts!