The benefits of nettles have been documented for centuries, with claims both anecdotal and scientific, that nettles treat a wide range of maladies. Nettle tea is used to improve heart action, for headaches and for any internal bleeding. Nettle is said to be extremely beneficial for the kidneys, being useful in expelling gravel from the bladder and dissolving kidney stones. It is a powerful blood purifier that drives out toxins and metabolic wastes by stimulating the kidneys to excrete more water. Nettle tea is said to clean out the entire intestinal tract while activating the body’s natural defense mechanisms. It is used as an overall health tonic and to treat high blood pressure, anemia, skin inflammations and more.
Nettle tea is relatively safe for children and adults, although it is always recommended that you consult a medical doctor before taking any new herb. Never take nettle tea when on prescription drugs without first consulting a doctor, as serious reactions could occur.
How to find and identify nettles
I first learned about nettles the hard way. While clearing a fence line. I smelled mint among the nearby plants. Looking to harvest the mint for tea, I plucked a handful of leaves from the closest plant and put it to my nose to get a deep whiff of the lovely mint smell. But instead I got what felt like a dose of pepper spray in my face. I had to run off and stick my face in a bucket of water for relief.
Stinging nettle or common nettle, Urtica dioica, is a perennial flowering plant, native to most of the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. Nettles usually appear in bunches or groves in the same places year after year. Look for them in rich soil, disturbed habitats, moist woodlands, thickets, along rivers, fence lines, and along partially shaded trails. Considered a weed by many farmers and gardeners, no one will complain if you harvest a few nettles.
Nettles are easy to identify. The dark green, opposite leaves are a few inches long, with a rough, papery texture, and very coarse teeth. The leaf tip is pointed, and its base is heart-shaped. In springtime, the nettle shoots will be close to the ground with only a few rows of leaves. The plant grows rapidly to a mature height of about 2 meters (6.5 feet) in summer. In fall the plant dies back, but re-emerges in the same location the following spring. Once you find a patch of nettles, you can harvest year after year in the same spot.
How to harvest nettles
‘Stinging’ nettles are given this name for good reason. If you touch any part of the plant, you will be stung. The sting is mildly painful and can last for hours. Wear gloves, long-sleeved shirt and long pants when hunting for nettles. Use a scissors or garden clippers to cut the top two bracts of leaves, leaving the rest of the plant to regenerate. Set a pot or bag alongside the plant and clip directly into the container. About a cup of fresh leaves is sufficient to brew a cup or two of tea.
How to brew nettle tea
Simply add water to your collected nettle leaves and heat to a near boil. Use about two cups of water for a cup of leaves; there’s no need to measure. You can make the tea stronger by steeping longer, or weaker by adding more water. Once the water is near boiling, reduce heat and simmer for a couple minutes. Pour through a small strainer and the tea is ready to drink. Some people prefer a small bit of sugar added to the tea, but I find the taste is just fine without any additives.
The cooked leaves can also be eaten with a bit of butter melted over top, or they can be added to soups and stews. If you are going to eat the leaves, taste a small bit first to be sure the sting has left.
A word of caution
Any new substance should be introduced gradually to your body. A cup or two of nettle tea per day is sufficient to enjoy the benefits which nettles offer. Those new to nettles should start out with small amounts.
If you will be bringing children along while harvesting nettles, which is a good learning experience for them, be sure to take adequate precautions to keep them from being stung by the leaves. Long clothing and gloves should be worn at all times when handling nettles. Once they are cooked or brewed into tea, they lose their sting.
So if you’re looking to shake the winter blahs and reinvigorate yourself for spring, a simple restorative elixir may be as close as a nearby weed patch. And since nettles grow in the same area year after year, it only takes one discovery to bring you a ready supply of nature’s miracle tonic for spring.