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Spring Time Herb - Nettles

I don’t know about you, but this winter feels like it has gone on forever. I am so ready to shake off the warm blankets, put away the heavy duty parkas and snow boots and get psyched for spring. Don’t put all the winter gear away –be realistic, it always snows at least once in April in Toronto, but the coldest days are behind us and we are heading toward the Vitamin D rich sunlight.

There are so many beautiful, enlightening, invigorating parts of spring renewal, one of my favourite elements is all the fresh herbs and produce in the garden and at the market. This is one of those incredible things that Mother Nature does – provides what we humans need at just the right moment in time. Enter – Stinging Nettle – Urtica dioica – one of the safest and most versatile wild growing herbs. Don’t touch it with your bare hands until it’s been steamed and the prickly bits have been deactivated – “stinging” is not a euphemism.

Here is an herb whose medicinal use has been documented since Ancient Greek times – now that’s staying power! It grows wild all over North America, Europe and Asia and is beneficial for so many situations. Here are some of its most vital uses:

  1. Anemia Nutritive – Nettle is rich in iron & calcium & strong in Vitamin C – and Vitamin C is needed to absorb iron –thank you Mother Nature for providing an all inclusive plant. Drinking nettle teas and infusions can help increase iron levels without the digestive discomfort that can be experienced when supplementing with certain types of iron. A great option those following a vegan diet. Also very high in essential Vitamins A and K

  2. Anti – Allergy – Allergies are one of those not so pleasant parts of spring, but no need to suffer. Nettle teas and tonics act as natural antihistamines and can greatly reduce symptoms of itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, congestion, skin irritations and other allergic/ hayfever non-fun.

  3. Detox Tonic – In Europe nettle is known as a Spring Tonic and is used for general spring cleaning/ detoxification. It can improve blood circulation, strengthen bones, improve blood sugar control and prevent kidney stones.

  4. Diuretic Urinary Tract Infections & BPH - studies show great success in using nettle root as a treatment for the early stages of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, resulting in reduced prostate size and a decrease in symptoms of both conditions, such as improved urine flow with decreased frequency & nocturia (waking to pee). It seems that this herb inhibits the same enzyme that causes BPH & male-pattern hair loss, so using Nettle preventatively could help you maintain your hairline – win win!

  5. Hypotensive – a gentle and easy adjunct to any program designed to reduce high blood pressure

  6. Alterative – this is a term used to indicate an herb that gradually restores proper function to the body while increasing overall health and vitality. By aiding the body in eliminating waste Nettle improves bodily functions by decreasing overall toxic load. Alteratives are particularly useful for cases of chronic inflammation and degeneration, including skin conditions such as eczema & acne, as well as arthritic diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

  7. Galactagogue – the ability to increase milk supply. Dried nettles are actually fed to some organic dairy cows to boost their milk production – works for nursing mamas too!

  8. Anti-Inflammatory - rich in polyphenols, Nettle is an excellent remedy for itchy, dry skin, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis

Dried nettle both loose and in easy-to-use teabags are available year round.

Nettle Infusion

  1. Steep ¼ cup of dried nettle leaves (or two teabags) in a full mason jar of boiling water.

  2. Allow to steep overnight and drink the deep green, grassy tasting infusion the next day – hot, cold or room temp. Add a little squeeze of lemon or a touch of honey if you desire. So nourishing.

When bags of fresh nettle start showing up at the farmers market or in my weekly CSA I make pesto – so quick to prepare and versatile to have on hand. Here is my simple recipe:

Wild Nettle Pesto

Big bag of raw nettle

3 cloves of garlic (or less if you are not such a garlic fan)

½ cup of olive oil

½ cup of hemp seeds (or nut/ seed of choice/ whatever is in your pantry. Cashew adds a lovely sweetness, traditional pine nuts work well too)

1 tsp salt

Juice of one lemon

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the nettles into the water without touching them – beware the sting – wear gloves or only touch the bag. Allow them to simmer for 3-5 minutes until wilty and bright green.

  2. Drain & add to food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

So simple and easy. Will keep in the fridge for about a week, also good for freezing in ice cube trays for months. Fantastic with eggs and sautéed mushrooms. Wonderful with pasta and sundried tomatoes. Awesome spread on grilled protein of choice. Tasty licked off a spoon.

Nettle is safe for consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding. As always, check with your trusted health care provider. If you think you may be iron deficient, suffer from allergies, high blood pressure, have pain or chronic inflammation, come see me, perhaps I can help. I offer free 15 minute consultations to see if we may be a good therapeutic fit.

Naturopathic medical care is covered by most extended health benefit packages.

Dr Dori Skye Engel,
Naturopathic Doctor & Doula

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