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Nettles, Nettles, Everywhere: Harvest wild, free herbs

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) grow like weeds in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Spring is the time to collect the top 6-8 inches of stinging nettles before they flower. You can dry them, or make fresh oil or vinegar infusions, tinctures, hair tonics, tea...
Purple stinging nettles, you can see nettle leaves in background too, Mar 2004
Purple stinging nettles, you can see nettle leaves in background too, Mar 2004
Drying herbs in your home is easy...
Drying herbs in your home is easy...
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) grow like weeds in the woods where I live in the Pacific Northwest (Washington State, USA). Spring is the time to collect the top 6-8 inches of stinging nettles before they flower. You can dry them for later use, or make fresh oil or vinegar infusions, tinctures, hair tonics, herbal drinks, etc. Nettles have been used for centuries in medicines, cosmetics, dyes, teas, and also as an edible, calcium-rich green, like spinach.

Nettles sting with the little hairs under their jagged, heart-shaped leaves, and on their stems. They don't sting once they are boiled. They usually do not sting once dried, but be careful, as I have been stung by dried nettles. What stings is the formic acid and histamine on the hairs. Harvest the tops of nettles with scissors, gloves, and caution. You can put string up between two corners of your home and hang the nettles up to dry. Once dry, store in containers for later use.

Nettles are good for hair. Pour one quart of boiling water over about 10-20 chopped fresh or dried nettle leaves, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Strain, then put into a bottle to use as a hair rinse. It stays fresh about 2-3 days. If you can add some comfrey root or leaves with the nettles, in the boiling water bath, your hair will be well-nourished from nettles, as well as silky soft from comfrey. To use the hair rinse, shampoo and crème rinse as usual, then pour the nettle water over your hair and do not rinse it out. You can also pour heated vinegar over nettles (and optional comfrey) and let it steep 30 minutes, then use it as a dandruff treatment... but the vinegar stinks, so you may want to rinse that one out afterwards. Nettles are also used cosmetically for facial steams, and as a deep cleanser for oily skin (due to astringent qualities).

Nettle vinegar can be made by soaking fresh herbs in white vinegar. The vinegar leaches the calcium and other minerals out of the nettles, and then you can sprinkle the vinegar on salads, veggies, stir fry, and it will be nourishing. Purple nettles will tint the vinegar a nice rose hue. You can steam young nettles picked in spring, just like kale or spinach. Use the leftover water as a hair rinse. You can add the leaves to soups, stews, and basically any recipe calling for spinach. Nettles are reportedly high in calcium, iron, magnesium, chromium, potassium, and zinc, as well as vitamins A, B, C, D and K. Nettles are said to nourish the adrenal glands, and are also rich in carotene.

Nettle tea has been used traditionally as an arthritis treatment as it supposedly breaks down uric acid crystals in joints. Nettles supposedly also help expel mucous during colds, as well as being a diuretic. In Germany, the government has approved nettles as a treatment for urinary retention. Nettles have been traditionally used to treat asthma, anemia, itchy skin, kidney and bladder infections and stones, diarrhea, dandruff, to rehydrate vaginal tissues by drinking the tea and using it for sitz baths also, and as a general tonic. Nettle tea also makes a delicious, nutritious drink just to sip.

Roman soldiers stung themselves with nettles to keep warm in the cold winter. Some people sting local areas with nettles for arthritis pain, saying once the initial sting wears off, they find arthritis relief for hours. In the past, people have inhaled powdered nettle leaves like snuff to stop nosebleeds, as the astringent properties are said to help external and internal bleeding. Nettles reportedly curdle milk, and was used in cheese making in Judea. Nettles also make a nice yellowish-gray-green wool/silk/cotton fabric dye when mixed with alum. There are warnings that ingesting large quantities of nettles can cause constipation, stomach ache, skin burning and urinary problems. Nettle fibers have been used to make rope, cloth and paper. Some people make nettle beer.

As you can see, nettles are some useful plants. Wild plants do not cost money. They can be hand-harvested, hand-dried, and used for better health and beauty, for free. As Americans raised in cities, most Americans cannot identify basic wild edible and medicinal plants. This is a shame. To reconnect with the earth, pick nettles to help you appreciate the gifts the earth gives us, and remind us we need to protect the earth. Use nettles to replenish your blood and tissues. Take some time out in the sun to harvest plants in the woods. It is anti-capitalist. It is empowering. It is FUN and it is FREE!

Note: Do not eat or drink tea from any plant you have not fully studied and identified properly.

Living on the Earth, Alicia Bay Laurel, Vintage Books, 1971
Complete Book of Herbs, Leslie Bremness, Penguin Books, 1988
Menopausal Years, Susun Weed, Ash Tree Publishing, 1992
Llewellyn's 2003 Herbal Almanac, Llewellyn Worldwide, 2003

homepage: homepage: http://www.angelfire.com/la3/kirstenanderberg
address: address: Seattle, Wa

thankyou 29.Mar.2004 18:23


I have arthritis and also I like spinach. Lots of nettles around. I'm going to try it, MAYBE even the stinging, but boiling and eating or making tea, for sure. Thanks for the tip, the link and the bibliography.

interesting 30.Mar.2004 01:42


also interesting to compare nettles as a Vit D source with other sources. not sure how it is now, it used to that be aside from fish, the other source (i.e. used for Vit D enriched milk) was given as from "irradiated fungi". there may be one or two other native species (the short Urtica urens is one, I think) and I'm curious how they compare for usefulness, certainly other species besides the more familiar one can sting. could invite a few them home with you by various means (I think they are dioeceous and require male and female plants for pollenation if you want to keep the seed thing going). also they are useful to plant under windows where you have surveillence problems (peeping toms, FBI / CIA agents, etc), a slight variation on the usual story of how the thistle got to be a scottish icon.



thanx, very cool article; i never knew so much about nettles! i like the sticker on your wall too.

Heavy Nettle Believer 30.Mar.2004 12:00

Dr. J

A great way to fight the power is eat, drink, heal for free. These are at work sites I go to every week. People kept telling me nettles are edible, but I had no idea why you'd want to eat them or how to pick them. Thanks Kirsten for this post.

Good for allergies, too 30.Mar.2004 20:17


Subject says it all. I've found stinging nettle (either as tea, eaten like spinach, or even freeze-dried and powdered in capsules from the store) to be effective for allergy relief, and with none of the drowsiness of antihistamines.

Harvest NOW. Because of the warm spring, they're maturing faster than normal.

Portland, OR

Nettles 13.Jun.2004 08:16

Rosemary Rhodes Roskezia@aol.com.

I have a novel way of eating nettles (for all the resons given in the article)
When I make meat balls for a spaghetti sauce with tagliatelli, I flatten the meat mixture in the palm of my hand and then add a tea spoon of blanched chopped nettles to the centre.
The I fold over the meat mix and make it into a ball as usual.
It's delicious.
Picky members of the family are left thinking the greens are spinach.


nettles - yum! 03.Jul.2005 16:03


oh boy! nettles...at the moment i read the initial article, i wanted to offer my enthusiasm. actually, at the moment i am eating nettle leaf stems, like a soft pasta in a way (but NOT!). the leaves are drying for tea, the long plant stems i am gonna dry and make cordage. yes, good to be aware of where they grow, and what xposed to. i dry them gently but thoroughly till they crumble easily, then i store them in a jar with a couple paper towels to ensure they stay dry. then i can make an infusion, a handful of the crumbled leaves (about a quarter-to a third of a cup) tossed in a quart jar, then pour on just boiled water, like for tea, put a lid on it to keep all nettle-essence in, and let it set all day or over night, then i enjoy it as a yummy tea. For a "mess o' greens" if just cooking the young nettle leaves sounds a little too intense, you could put them in with other greens like kale, whatever, to cook. so...every part of the nettle can be used, the seeds also have medicinal properties, but i am not well versed in this aspect, so, not to consume them as i believe they have very powerful kidney medicine in them, not to take lightly. as with any herb, do your research and discover what works for you, find someone local to help you type out this or any other plant you intend to forage. foraging is FUN but ya gotta know what you're doing...find out what our earth mother provides in your locale, treat her and her gifts with respect and thanks. i always offer a pinch of tobacco (which i am actually growing for the first time this year, to use as an offering) or pluck an eyelash (yes, that is traditional, too).

Nettle is a natural pesticide 02.Nov.2005 13:53

That's me!

Someone told me once that nettle leaves soaked in water makes a natural pesticide. Soak for about 24 hrs. Put it in a spray bottle, and use as you would any store-bought pesticide.

I LOVE YOUR ARTICLES! 28.Nov.2005 12:46

Rebekah rcbottle@comcast.net

I have been reading all of your articles and you are one fascinating person! I like your web-page and maybe I will have one up too that has my own recipes for things that I can share with other people. That really is a good idea.