As the season’s first warm rays of sun invite us outdoors, we notice a few vigorous and weedy plants such as dandelions, violets, chickweed and nettles expressing their vitality simply by growing! It’s seasonal herbalism at its best to engage these plants in any one of their plentiful uses. This month, we’ll focus on Stinging Nettle.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) is an herbaceous perennial that grows throughout temperate regions of the world in sunny areas along lakes and streams and at the edge of forests. You can also find it reclaiming disturbed, empty land. Since it prefers rich, moist soil, it is an indicator of soil quality, and makes an excellent addition to the compost pile due to its high nitrogen content. Nettle is a quintessential nourishing herbal tonic and can be ingested daily. It’s especially helpful as a detoxifying spring tonic. The rich “green” taste of nettles shouts “Nourishment!” and the salty taste hints at its iron content, so useful for building the blood.
Nettles can be steeped as a nourishing infusion and drunk as a tissane. The tops of spring nettles can be steamed or sautéed and used as you would any green leafy vegetable.
Whether you forage your nettles or find them at the local farmers market, resist the urge to touch them. When they’re raw, they sting! When they’re cooked, though, their sassy attitude is tamed and they are delicious! Try nettles as an alternative to traditional basil pesto with your favorite pasta. Here’s a recipe, courtesy of Jess Thompson:
Stinging Nettle Pesto
1/2 pound nettles
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer for the nettles. Using tongs, add the nettles (carefully) and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. (This denatures their sting.) Dump into a colander to drain. When the nettles are cool enough to handle, wrap them in a clean dishtowel and wring out as much moisture as possible, like you would for spinach. You’ll have about a cup of cooked nettles.
In a food processor, whirl the garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to taste until finely chopped. Add the nettles, breaking them up as you drop them in. Add the lemon juice and whirl away. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream and process until smooth. Add the cheese, pulse briefly, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice. Serve with your favorite pasta or spiralized vegetable. Yum!
Not only is nettle an incredibly healthful herb for our insides, herbalist Susun Weed raves about infused nettle leaves applied as a hair rinse for “glossy, thick, vibrant hair.” Nettle root is lauded as a restorative tonic for weak hair or hair loss, and when applied topically, nettle stimulates circulation of blood to the area.
Here is a great alternative to cleansing your hair with conventional shampoo courtesy of Mountain Rose Herbs:
Nettle Lavender Rinse
In addition to the benefits of nettle, as mentioned above, lavender essential oil helps normalize both dry and oily scalp conditions. Its soothing nature makes it a nice choice for sensitive scalps too. This formula is perfect for all hair colors and types.
5 drops organic Lavender essential oil
1 tbsp baking soda
Using a covered pot, decoct your herbs for 10-15 minutes. I generally use 1/4 cup of herbs per cup of water.
Strain out the herbs and combine your herbal infusion and add the baking soda stirring until dissolved and well mixed.
Allow to cool to body temperature. Add to a clean jar along with the essential oil. Cover and shake to combine.
Pour over dry hair or soak hair in the mixture for at least 5 minutes. Massage the scalp gently using a circular motion.
Rinse out with clean running water.
You can follow the herbal rinse with an apple cider vinegar rinse if you'd like.
OPTIONAL: If your hair feels dry and you want a little conditioning, feel free to add a small amount of organic coconut oil or jojoba oil to provide a little extra moisture. 1/4 tsp. per quart of rinse is a good place to start.
Many thanks to you, Nettles! You’re awesome!