Nettles (Urtica dioica) have a reputation as a pesky stinging weed or emergency food in scarce times. In actual fact, nettles are a wonderful tonic food rich in nutrients and great for the immune system. They contain most of the B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, bioflavanoids, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulphur, zinc and a whole host of trace minerals.
Nettles are currently being investigated in relation to ageing-related diseases due to their high antioxidant activity. While the leaves and roots of nettles are of great therapeutic benefit year round as a dried herb or tincture, this plant is traditionally used as a Spring tonic. The fresh young shoots and leaves can be used in soups and stews, much the same as you would use spinach.
Whilst living in New Zealand we would weed out this irritating plant by the barrowful; since shifting to the hot and dry climate of Perth I have been wishing to get hold of some fresh nettles to blend into my green smoothies, but was informed that they were scarce to none over here. Well, the garden faeries must have heard me wishing, because lo and behold in the mulch under the fruit trees appeared a lonely little nettle plant. I carefully nurtured the wee shoot until it grew to a point where I picked (carefully!) a few leaves to add to my spinach and banana blend – delicious! Just a month or so later, the nettle is now positioning itself to take over the entire orchard area…time to get harvesting and drying this precious herb/pesky weed.
Nettles have long been used by European herbalists and Native Americans alike to treat joint conditions such as gout and arthritis, but they are also used for a number of other ailments from uterine haemorrhage and anaemia to chronic eczema and asthma. More recently, the root of the nettle plant has been used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia. There are some people who have an extreme reaction to fresh nettles due to the histamine present, but rest assured that dried or cooked nettles are not at all toxic. Plantain or dock leaves are my go-to remedy for nettle stings (and other stings and bites).