“If they would eat Nettles in March and Mugwort in May, so many fine maidens would not go to the clay.” –Funeral song of a Scottish mermaid
As 16th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper noted, Nettle is easily recognizable even in the dark. Why? Also called Stinging Nettle, this plant has hairs that can sting the skin, causing itching, tingling, or burning sensations. Luckily, its healing properties far outweigh the sting, which is eliminated by drying or cooking.
|By Robert Reisman via Wikimedia Commons|
Nettle is a great tonic for the entire body. This nutrient-dense plant makes a tasty food that increases energy and nourishes the hair, skin, digestive tract, liver, gallbladder, and prostate. Nettle likes to grow in moist areas, and has a special affinity for the waterways of the body—the circulatory, lymphatic, and urinary systems. All parts of the plant are useful—leaves, stalks, seeds, and roots. In fact, the sting itself can be healing under certain circumstances.
Learning to Pay Attention
Without a doubt, one thing that every rash-inducing plant asks us to do is pay attention. So often, we trudge through life as a constant series of things to do, without care for the present moment. Synchronicities, messages, and opportunities for growth are all around us—we just have to pay attention.
Both Susun Weed and Rosemary Gladstar can pick Stinging Nettle with bare hands. How do they do this? “If you approach it wisely, quietly, and with respect, you can pick the plant with your bare hands….It is like a delicate balance between the plant and the harvester,” says Rosemary Gladstar in Herbal Healing for Women. This suggests that Nettle only stings when she’s trying to wake us up. Perhaps it is a signal that we’re moving too quickly, that we’ve bypassed something important, or that we haven’t been paying due attention to what truly nourishes us.
The uncomfortable sting of Nettle is also capable of great healing. The ancient remedy of lashing arthritic joints with stalks of the fresh plant has long since fallen out of popular practice. Admittedly, it seems a bit medieval in today’s pill-popping culture. But for those who want to ease the deep inflammation of gout or arthritis, the formic acid of the stinging hairs can help. Nettle has even been used to reawaken sensation and movement in limbs after serious injury.
Matthew Wood visualizes this plant spirit as an older woman with a broom or switch who urges people to get moving. Indeed, Nettle is a stimulating remedy that removes stagnation, toning and nourishing the entire body. A powerful kidney ally, this diuretic can help in cases of kidney or bladder stones and chronic urinary tract infections. Nettle also promotes the flow of breast milk, and is a great plant to be consumed before, during, and after pregnancy.
This nutritive herb contains more protein than any other plant native to temperate climates. Because Nettle is perennial, it’s a rewarding plant to grow, providing a delicious harvest year after year with little work. The tender young stalks and leaves can be steamed and eaten daily for added minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. They are mild and tasty on their own, but also work well in soups. The nutrients are readily available to our bodies, easily absorbed into the fluid system: the blood, lymph, hormones and neurotransmitters. Nettle is not only brain food, but also supports the function of the immune, circulatory, endocrine, nervous, and urinary systems. Nettle even nourishes the garden, useful as a compost additive or an infusion fed to plants.
So, we see that spirit of Nettle is not as harsh as she may seem—she doesn’t just swat your backside into action. She gives you a solid foundation of nourishment and added energy to boost you into proper form.
But Wait, There’s More!
|By Sannse via Wikimedia Commons|
Another important action of Nettle is allergy and hay fever relief. Eating or making tea from the fresh plant is best while in season, but you can preserve the harvest year-round by drying the leaves or creating a tincture. This is a rare case in which I will also recommend capsules, especially for those without access to a live plant. Specifically, freeze-dried Nettle leaf has been shown to reduce allergy symptoms. While a few rare individuals may have allergic reactions to Nettle—try it in a low dose at first—most people can consume as much as they want long-term. In fact, this plant is useful for recovery from enduring illnesses, such as Epstein-Barr virus and chronic fatigue.
|By Monik Markus via Wikimedia Commons|
Nettle is also a wonderful remedy for the hair, skin and nails, both internally as a food and medicine, as well as externally. You can infuse the antiseptic leaves for a hair rinse to improve scalp conditions and promote vibrant hair. Infusions can also be used as a facial steam to treat acne or other skin conditions. Also, Nettle root tincture is rubbed onto the scalp to heal dandruff. For the best results, take Nettle internally while also using these external treatments.
The list of Nettle’s healing properties goes on and on. Regular consumption assists the liver and gallbladder, acting as a gentle laxative and digestive tonic. Nettle seeds can be eaten to stimulate and support the thyroid gland. The herb also strengthens the respiratory system, and can clear infection when inhaled as a steam. As a hemostatic, it can be used to staunch bleeding and hemorrhaging. For men, Nettle root decoction or tincture can serve as a prostate tonic; herbalist and author James Green recommends it for benign prostatic enlargement.
Spinning New Connections
As if we would ask any more from a single plant, Nettle’s fibers can be spun into extremely strong cordage and fabric which surpasses the test of time. 2,000-year old exhumed graves have revealed intact clothing made from Nettle fiber. This speaks to Nettle’s astounding strength, which she uses to jolt our energy into action. Her sharp edges can do wonders to remove stagnation from our bodies and our lives. Susun Weed sees Nettle as “sister spinster,” who “cuts loose old patterns and reweaves connections.”
To me, the spirit of Nettle has spider-like qualities. It is true that she can bite if we aren’t paying attention, but she teaches the ability to weave a strong web of possibility by remaining open and receptive to the signs around us. The fabric of reality is a vast web of interconnected energy, which can speak to us in various ways. Nettle reminds us to stay alert for any signs of movement that can lead to deeper forms of nourishment.