Friday, June 18, 2010

Stinging Nettle

Day 14

Stinging Nettle - urtica dioica

This interesting herb is one most folks seek to avoid on a trek through the wild.  It's stems are covered with sharp hairs that are loaded with histamines and formic acid which trigger an allergic response.  A few years ago a friend gave me a start of her plant so I gave it a home it in a moist spot in the woods.  It's been doing very well there so we decided to harvest some plant tops this year.  In the spring, I was able to pinch off the stems without feeling any "stinging" even though my daughter was not so fortunate.  This week as I harvested another batch, I learned why stinging nettle has earned it's reputation!  The hairs are more pronounced and delivered a series of burning welts that lasted a few hours.
 Back in Caesar's day, Roman troops brought stinging nettle to Britain to be used to keep them warm in the colder climate by beating their bodies with the stinging hairs.  This method, called "urtication" is a traditional folk remedy used until quite recently for rheumatism and arthritis.
Nettles take minerals from the soil, especially iron.  The aerial parts are really good for folks who are anemic because they are also high in Vitamin C which aids in the body's ability to absorb iron and use it efficiently.  The greens make a cleansing spring tonic because the stinging is destroyed during cooking or drying. 
My husband suffers from gout so learning about nettles ability to flush uric acid from body tissues makes it a valuable remedy to have on hand.   The greens can be eaten as a vegetable or made into an infusion taken for arthritis, rheumatism, gout and eczema.  Compresses made with the infusion can be applied to relieve sciatic pain, sprains, hemorrhoids and tendinitis in addition to the above maladies.  Juice from the plant is actually a remedy for it's own stings as well as wounds, burns and insect stings.  Powdered nettle can be inhaled to stop nose bleeds. 
Don't take my word for any of the above claims.  Always be sure to check it out for yourself before attempting to use any folk remedy or herbal concoction.  They do have the benefit of empirical evidence to back them up and since nettle is still used medicinally, it also has science to prove its worth.
We enjoy an over the counter nettle medicinal tea which has a pleasant taste.  The plant tops that I harvested this week are hanging up to dry for future tea and infusions.  While the plants were fresh, I convinced my husband to allow me to experiment with a gout attack that he felt coming on.  He allowed me to gently tap the stinging hairs against his ankle resulting in lots of little welts that increased the blood low to the area.  After the stinging subsided, he actually admitted that the pain had eased somewhat and the attack never developed fully.  That is worth any stings I might get while harvesting!

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