This perennial favorite of herbalists is a member of its own family, the Urticaceae. It is a strong and hardy grower, preferring a bit of shade to constant sun. It flowers starting in early July, depending on the growing conditions, and for medicine we prefer to harvest it before the flowers open.
Nettle is famous for its sting. When harvesting, this can be quite distracting (and painful!). I’ve grown used to the occasional sting; to avoid it, either wear gloves, or approach the plant with clear intent and a stout heart, envisioning yourself wrapped in fire. It usually will leave you be.
Elemental associations: Fire
Phytochemistry: Organic acids, Vitamin C, Iron, chlorophyll (D. Hoffmann)
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, tonic, diuretic
Specific systems: Kidneys, adrenals, liver
This is an excellent, reliable, safe and effective tonic herb that everyone should become acquainted with. It does have a way of ‘protecting’ itself in the wild, which may scare many away, but this danger is eliminated after a few hours of drying or after any cooking / chopping. Before it wilts, however, its stinging power can actually be put into effect: through a process called ‘urtication’, bundles of the fresh herb are whipped against painful, inflamed joints and tissues to reduce the swelling and pain. I’ve tried this myself a few times, just on sore muscles, and although it hurts quite a bit at first, after about 20 minutes all that’s left is a gentle, numb and tingling sensation.
Nettle is the first choice in cases of anemia, and makes a great tonic because of its unusually rich vitamin and mineral content. It can really help re-energize a depleted constitution. Additionally, it has a gentle diuretic and tonic action on the kidneys, normalizing the elimination of water from the system.
Its liver effects make it an excellent remedy in the treatment of chronic allergic and inflammatory conditions, such as seasonal allergies, eczema and psoriasis, and chemical sensitivities. I have found, however, that the fresh plant extract works best for these purposes ~ something must get lost in the drying / heating process.
Indications: Anemia, debility, arthritis, allergies, eczema / psoriasis
Contraindications: None really
Preparation/Dosage: An excellent tea can be made by steeping 4 TBS in a quart of hot water. For greatest strength, allow this to steep at least 24 hours.
For allergies, use a tincture, prepared at 50% alcohol, 1:3 to 1:5, ½ to 1 tsp. 1-3 times daily.
For arthritis and swollen joints, use fresh nettles, whipped repeatedly onto the affected area.