The stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has an amazing history of being a powerful multi-use plant. It has been used since ancient times as a durable fiber, effective medicine with a multitude of healing properties, and as a nutritious food source.
The strong stems of the stinging nettle plant are used to make a fiber similar to hemp. The hollow structure of the stems provide strength and insulation when woven into fabric. The earliest known use of nettle fibers are in burial shrouds found in Denmark that date back to the Bronze age, 3000-2000 B.C. Historically, the Native Americans and early Europeans twisted the stems to make cordage for fishing nets, and wove the fibers for sailcloth and sacking.
Rich in chlorophyll, the leaves of the stinging nettle can be used as a natural dye for fiber, giving beautiful gold, light brown, and green hues.
When taken medicinally as a tincture or tea, different parts of the nettle impart different healing qualities. The leaves can help to balance breathing disorders such as asthma and allergies. They are also used in traditional herbal medicine to treat gout and anemia. Nettle leaf tea is highly beneficial for women's reproductive health and for balancing hormones. Preparations from the roots of the plant support bladder, kidney and prostate health.
Used topically, nettles can help to clear and calm the skin. This plant is loaded with antioxidants which protect against harmful free radicals that can damage the skin and cause premature aging. The Mermaid Detox mask contains nettle powder to help keep skin clear, smooth, and radiant.
An herbal infusion of nettles can also be used topically as a hair rinse to promote hair growth by increasing circulation to the scalp.
Freshly harvested nettles are delicious, nutritious, and fortifying greens. Especially beneficial when picked in in the early spring, nettles can help to stimulate the spleen and tonify blood and bone tissue. They are rich in iron, magnesium, and vitamin C. The compounds in nettles have anti-inflammatory properties, aiding to relieve pain in conditions such as arthritis. These greens can be prepared similarly to spinach.
To harvest, it is best to wear thick gloves and use scissors to snip the stalks into a bag or basket to avoid getting “stung” by it’s needly hairs. The leaves should be removed from their stems, and then blanched, sauteed, or cooked in soup, stews, gnocchi, or enjoyed as a topping on pizza! They have also traditionally been used in making ale or beer.
Jana's Baka Milka was from Montenegro where a traditional nettle soup recipe (Crnogorska corba od copriva) is prepared in the spring to detoxify and nourish the body. Jana has early memories of her Baka harvesting emerald green nettles from her Aunt's farm in Quebec and preparing huge batches of the soup.
Montenegrin Nettle Soup ( recipe taken from here)
- 600 grams young top shoots of nettles, well washed
- Butter for sauteéing
- 50 grams round-grain rice, cooked
- 2 potatoes, diced small
- 1 bunch spring onions, coarsely chopped
- 1 liter water
Pick the nettles wearing rubber gloves. Sweat the nettle tips, sprinkled with a little salt and water, in a lidded pan until just limp. Pound them to a paste in a mortar, or process to a puree with a food processor or stick mixer. Saute the chopped spring onions and potatoes in a little butter until the potatoes start to color a little. Off the heat, add the nettles: then gradually stir in the water. Stir well and simmer gently until the potatoes are cooked through. Serve in a tureen with a dollop of clotted cream (or creme fraiche if you can't get clotted cream in your area).