Friday, January 27, 2017

Nettle - More Than A Cup of Tea

I wanted to include the following article on Stinging Nettle because....I love it as an herbal tea (tisane) and anyone who knows me knows I love my teas whether herbal or the wonderful Camellia sinenis!

by Mariluz Kersey, Certified Health Coach

Who would think a plant covered in stinging hairs, and filled with irritating chemicals, would make a delicious cup of herbal tea? Indeed, the name stinging nettle is enough to ward off the sceptical, but don’t be frightened—it’s worth your interest.

Drinking and learning about herbal teas, for me, are two of life’s little pleasures. So, several years ago, when my best friend bought me a box of stinging nettle bags to try, naturally, I got my kettle ready. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to buy more. I also wanted to learn everything I could about this tasty herb. Surprisingly, there are a number of uses besides making a good cup of tea.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is rich in vitamins and minerals including:  Vitamin A and C, calcium, chlorophyll, and magnesium; it’s like drinking a cup of good health. Many herbs, reported to be good for you, have an unpleasant after taste—not nettle. Its mellow flavor, and hint of sweetness, is pleasant enough that a child would like.

Health conscientious store shelves carry a wide selection of herbal teas, but nettle teabags can be hard  to find. Sometimes you can find brands that sell nettle in a convenient teabag. Some health food stores and mail-order companies sell crushed nettle leaves in bulk form. It’s not as convenient as the teabag, but it’s just as good. Herbal farmers sometimes sell their crops, including fresh and dried nettle, at public markets. Growing stinging nettle, and then harvesting it, is an option, but ouch, this may not be a suitable choice for an inexperienced gardener. If the tiny hollow hairs brush against your skin and break, they will release an irritating chemical mixture of histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, and a fourth chemical still not identified by researchers. These chemicals leave the skin feeling itchy and irritated; it feels like your skin has been in contact with fibreglass insulation. Some people have experienced blistering. You can also find nettle growing in the woods, in rich and moist soil, and in wastelands. Whether you grow it in your garden or decide to hike along a stream and pick nettle, make sure you wear a good pair of gloves, preferably a pair made with a light rubber coating, and wear long sleeves.

When brewing a cup or a pot and using a teabag or loose herbs, preparation is easy:  simply place a bag in your mug, pour boiling water over it and let steep for five minutes. If using loose herb, measure a teaspoonful per cup, more if you like it stronger. If using a pot, increase amount, and don’t forget to add an extra spoon for the pot.

Nettle is more than just a great tasting cup of tea:  it is a versatile plant usable in almost all aspects of daily life. Archaeologists have reported finding fragments of nettle cloth in Northern Europe dating as far back as the later part of the Stone Age. Before our ancestors spun cotton into threads to make cloth, they used flax, hemp, and nettle. Today, researchers are looking for ways to reduce pollution and waste and returning to nettle is one solution. Nettle plants require less water, and use much less pesticides and other harmful chemicals—chemicals that are dangerous to the environment and humans—less than cotton. Hemp and flax are environmentally friendly, too, but the finished product is rough; however, the finished nettle fabric has a finer and softer texture—much nicer against the skin. Other uses for the fibrous stalks are rope, fishnets and paper.

Europeans use nettle as a treatment for gout, bladder infections, and arthritis. Native Americans use the juice and leaves for skin wounds and as a pain reliever. Some horse breeders are using dried nettle to give horses a sleek and shiny coat. There are hair care products containing nettle that promise to condition the scalp, reduce dandruff, and to make hair grow (folklore). Instead of spending large amounts of money on such products, why not try making a rinse out of nettle and vinegar; take into consideration that nettle has darkening qualities. In a glass jar, place one tablespoon of crushed nettle leaves and a half-cup of apple cider vinegar, cover and let steep for one week. Shake jar at least once a day. Strain and discard leaves. Add two cups of filtered water to vinegar and shake. To use:  set aside one cup and have it ready; shampoo hair, omit conditioner; pour half of nettle rinse over scalp, and rub gently into scalp then pour the remaining half cup over rest of hair (save other cup for next shampoo). Do not rinse. Dry as usual and admire!

The young tender leaves of nettle also make a delicious food. One can find recipes for soups, salads, wine and beer on the Internet, and in herbal books and magazines. Nettle also makes a healthy side dish:  Gather nettle leaves, rinse and shake off excess water. Set aside five cups of nettle; it will reduce once cooked. In a medium sized frying pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil and two crushed garlic cloves over low to medium heat. Quickly sauté. Add the nettle, reduce heat; once it begins to look like cooked spinach, it’s ready. Add two tablespoons of pine nuts (or preferred crunch of choice)  and serve. The cooked leaves are a deep and rich green; cooked leaves loose their sting.

Even folklore has a place for nettle. After all, don’t most myths have a grain of truth?  One story says to keep negative spirits away, sprinkle nettle powder around your home; another myth claims that it will bring you love.

Nettle is used for food, beverages, clothing, rope, hair and skin products, and paper. Its history teaches us about how resourceful our ancestors were, and more importantly, as more people turn to nature for answers, it will help us with the future. What more can we ask of a plant? I shall ponder the  thought as I make nettle pesto and savor another cup of nettle tea!

To your health!.

Coach Mariluz

I’m a health coach, wellness educator, and writer. I’m a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, The College of International Holistic Studies, and the Heart of Herbs and soon the Health Sciences Academy. I help people on their journey toward healthier living through food, herbs,  and lifestyle choices.

Originally published with The Essential Herbal - A Magazine for Herbalists. Much gratitude to this wonderful magazine. 

Copyrighted material Mariluz Kersey