My absolute favourite wild edible and medicinal plant has to be Nettle. It is my “go to” when I am feeling unsettled or out of sorts. This wild edible is a super food in terms of nutrition! This modest little plant saved many a family during times of war when food was scarce.
It is a most abundant little healer growing all over the world. This vibrant little plant is a keeper for sure – both for our survival and for the benefits it brings to the ecology. Nettle is a true friend to the soil – stabilising it, healing it and giving it plenty of nutrients and trace minerals.
I have only seen Urtica urens in the Western Cape – it comes up after the first few winter rains and dies back in the hot, dry summer. Urtica dioca is the other Stinging Nettle variety that grows in SA.
In rural areas both are used as a pot herb or wild spinach (imifuno)… in Xhosa Urtica urens is called iRhawu, uRhalijane or uRhalakajane and Urtica dioica is called iRhawurhawu or uRhalakajane.
Urtica urens (pictured left) and Urtica dioica (below) – the visible difference is the later has a string of drooping flowers.
Parts used: whole plant ~ leaves, stems and root – but mainly the leaves and tender shoots.
Harvesting: Gather the plants before they bloom in the wild – the younger the better. Or if like me you have them growing in your garden you can keep picking the new tender shoots until the plant dies back. This constant picking will bush out the plant ensuring you get plenty more tips. In the wild they are leggier and tend to shoot up and die back quite quickly after flowering.
The older stems will become woody and are more challenging to eat but still fine to pick if you are just going to use them to make tea.
Nettle is best freshly picked but can be dried for all year round use. I am never without this wonderful herb in my home. Always use gloves to harvest these plants.
To remove pricks: either place in boiling water for about 30 seconds to a minute. Juicing them is another way to destroy the needle-like hairs. Some people do eat the very young leave raw but they can be a little prickly in the mouth.
If you do get stung, rub a plantain leaf against the sore spot to relief the pain or Bulbine frutescens works equally well.
Food: Nettle juice tastes so good and the plant has even more minerals than wheat grass? It makes an excellent tonic for anyone who is sick and it makes a delicious tea as well – ¼ to a half a cup of the fresh herb to 1 cup H20. I place the herb in cold water and bring it up to the boil (don’t heat the water above 70 C), then remove it from the heat and leave it too steep for about five minutes.
Because it offers such fantastic nutritional benefits I don’t like to cook it much.
I add a few sprigs to any dish: stews, stir fry’s, or steamed veg or you can juice the nettle to a pulp and add to soups or stocks. The dried herb may also be sprinkled over food. A great nutritional boost to any meal and it tastes fantastic!
An excellent substitute for spinach and is actually richer in iron.
Excellent chopped up and sautéed with onion and potato.
Nettle has incredible energizing and healing powers and they are absolutely FREE!!!
Nutrition: 100g of Nettle contains 30.4 grams (30% by weight) of crude protein; 2,970 milligrams of calcium, 680 milligrams of phosphorus, 32.2 milligrams of iron, 650 milligrams of magnesium, 20.2 milligrams of beta-carotene, and 3,450 milligrams of potassium. It is a good source of vitamin A and C with traces of vitamin D and B complex – all in a highly palatable form that can be effectively assimilated into the body without adding excess stress upon the liver, kidneys, or digestive tract.
Safe for the whole family and much cheaper and more easily assimilated than any store bought supplement.
Medicinal: I love it as a tea to gently cleanse and detox the system. It’s brilliant for acid related ills such as arthritis, gout, or any digestive upsets. It is great for fluid retention as it gives your kidneys a good flush. Its diuretic action increases the flow and often helps to dissolve blockages in the urethra.
Possibly it’s most bizarre treatment is known as urtication which involves beating paralysed and swollen arthritic limbs with the freshly picked raw plant. This treatment dates back at least 2,000 years to biblical times. The reason it’s been around so long because it is effective and has helped so many people who are unable to write or play the guitar because their hands are so afflicted. The needle-like hairs deliver microinjections of several chemical that are responsible for the stinging sensation – these chemicals trigger an anti-inflammatory action directly into the inflamed area. Going to work immediately.
It is an anti-allergy remedy that is useful for insect bites, rashes, and runny noses. It is thought to work like a mild (homeopathic) dose of histamine meaning it provokes the body into defensive action by triggering an attack (so basically it prompts the body into helping it prepare). Works on hay fever, asthma, eczema and insect bites.
It is also used to treat anaemia (better than any other plant according to Alfred Vogel), rickets, scrofula, respiratory illnesses (tuberculosis – it took about a year of daily nettle juice to cure one patient). Culpepper also notes that this “is a safe and sure medicine to open the pipes and passages of the lungs”.
It is also useful for lymphatic problems. It improves breast milk production and reduces enlarged and painful prostate. In a study conducted on human subjects who had mild cases or early onset of prostatic adenoma (a degenerative enlargement of the glandular part of the prostate that typically results in frequent urination during the night), the fluid extract (tincture) of nettle root was found to reduce the duration and volume of urine retention and thus the need to urinate throughout the night. The active constituent in this case is believed to be Beta-sitosterol, a phytosterol known to possess mild anti-inflammatory activity. Although it is not likely to reduce scar tissue with in the urinary tract and prostate, it is believed to relieve symptoms through reduction of swelling in surrounding tissues.
Given the safety of this herb, nettle is certainly worth a try.
Nettle tea purifies the blood, helps expel kidney stones and works on sciatica. It has also been used to treat internal haemorrhage, dysentery, bronchial catarrh, jaundice and infertility. Great for skin and hair (makes a great hair rinse to improve quality and condition – a basic infusion). Appropriate for childhood ailments. Juice of nettle works wonders on any sick person (a tablespoon a day for an adult, a teaspoon a day for a child, and five to ten drops for an infant)~ it may be added to a warmed already prepared soup to help mask the taste if need be.
Please bear in mind that large doses of nettle can be irritating to the kidneys if given over an extended period of time, particularly if the person has a pre-existing kidney disease or if the herb was gathered too late in its growth cycle. In other words, those with kidney disease please use in moderation (mature leaves contain more oxalic acid which is the ingredient that irritates the kidneys).
Consumption of any wild plants is at your own discretion and own risk. For personal safety do not use wild plants if you have a medical condition, are pregnant or lactating, and do not give plants to minors unless under supervision. Never use any plant as a medicine or food unless you are 100% sure of its identification. Many plants are poisonous; in some cases certain parts of a plant may be edible while other parts may be poisonous. Use only plants that are organically grown, where you can be sure that it has not been sprayed or treated with poisonous chemicals. When in doubt – leave out.
I take no responsibility for any poisoning, illness or discomfort due to the incorrect identification or use of a plant. You are strongly advised to consult a medical practitioner before treating yourself or your family with home remedies. If you are using a plant for the first time, try a tiny bit first to judge your tolerance – if irritation occurs avoid using it.
By Tracy Armbruster
Should you wish to learn more or would like to attend one of my workshops please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Wild Edible & Medicinal plant workshop: 9 – 10 November 2013.