A few days ago I was able to gather my first batch of nettle (Urtica dioica). Nettle has a really good range of therapeutic actions but on top of that it is an absolute powerhouse of goodness. I use a lot of it in my clinic. So much so that I have a row of nettles in my field which I keep nicely weeded. Weeding nettles might seem odd to some, but it makes perfect sense to me.
It’s hard to know where to start with describing the properties of nettle but I’ll just jump right in with the fact that it is an excellent anti-inflammatory. The Romans introduced their own nettle to the British Isles so that they could thrash their aching joints with the plants, reducing inflammation and stimulating the blood supply. This practice, called urtification, is not really very popular these days so I prefer to prescribe nettle in infusions, tinctures, ointments or capsules. I think that this is probably better for repeat business.
Nettle stimulates the kidneys, helping them to clear toxins more effectively from the body. You may accuse me of having an over active imagination but I think that the little seed heads hanging down in the late summer are reminiscent of the Bowman’s capsule inside the kidney. I also connect the nettle with being able to grow and survive in very highly nitrogenous environments, such as on top of a muck heap. Something about the plant gives it the ability to cope with high levels of nitrogen and it is fitting that it can help improve kidney function which after all is concerned with removing excess nitrogen from the body. As I have explained in a previous post, The Doctrine of Signatures is alive and well here in West Dorset!
By stimulating the kidneys to work more efficiently the nettle can help to improve skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, as well as inflammatory conditions like arthritis, rheumatism and gout. Even hayfever can respond well to nettle if it is drunk as a tea throughout the season.
Nettle is one of the richest sources of chlorophyll in the plant kingdom, making it a great source of magnesium. It has extremely high levels of iron and other minerals so is ideal for those suffering from anaemia and debility. As well as replacing lost iron, nettle helps to reduce blood loss in those suffering from heavy menstrual bleeding, so it helps at both ends of the problem.
Nettle can be eaten as greens or in soup. The famous Tibetan Yogi, Milarepa, is said to have existed almost solely on nettle soup while he meditated in caves high up in the Himalayas. He lived to a ripe old age and wrote a vast number of very inspiring songs.
I like to use nettle to make an iron rich tonic to take over the winter. The tonic provides calcium, magnesium and Vitamin C as well as iron so it is a great boost for the grey winter months. If you make it once you will be hooked and will want to make some every year. It really is delicious as well as effective.
Here is the recipe:
Fill a Kilner jar with:
1 part organic orange peel
4 part crushed dried nettle
4 parts dried chopped organic apricots
Cover well with organic red wine, you may need to top it up as the nettles swell.
Leave to stand for 3 weeks, shaking daily. Drain the tonic through boiled muslin and reserve the liquid, squeezing the herbs either with your hands or in a wine press to get every last drop out. Store the tonic in dark bottles in a cool place.
At this point you will have tasted it and discovered that it is delicious. Resist the urge to start daily supplementation immediately! You want this for the winter months.
The dose for adults is 1 dessert spoon twice a day. Children over 8 can take a teaspoon twice a day (the alcohol in that amount is negligible). Likewise, as the alcohol content is negligible and nettles are safe during pregnancy, this is an excellent tonic for expectant mothers.
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