Plant Medicine

This will only sting a bit….Nourishing Nettles

Picture credit: Wikipedia commons. Urtica dioca.
Picture credit: Wikipedia commons. Urtica dioca.

As I write this, my life is in a state of upheaval.  My little tribe of five have been living out of a suitcase and couchsurfing for the last three years.  Thanks to the ramifications of a country caught in economic and government instability, and subsequent reluctance to ensure job security, we have, essentially, been homeless. To say that my life in the last few years has been stressful, is an understatement. Yet, while I may have hit what often feels like rock bottom, life, as it is want to do, keeps on going. How I choose to respond to this is paramount to how I cope, and how I manage to come out the other side, alive. Some mornings, I have woken up wishing that I would never have to get out of bed again, wondering how I’ll get through this day. And then I’ve remembered, that I need to be a responsible mother and simply just function for the sake of my children. Mother-guilt already comes with the job, so I really don’t need to take on any more.

What are my choices? I choose simply to keep going. I choose to face my fears and just keep going.

In situations like these however, I also call upon my Faith (it took me a while to figure out what was mine), and I call upon the plant allies. Many plant people and superfood gurus would wax lyrical on the virtues of the adaptogens at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Adaptogens (official) and what they have to offer, and have used them with wild abandon when they were really needed. (Adaptogens basically help the body cope more effectively with prolonged stress. As David Hoffman puts it, they help you cope more effectively so you can find away out of the stressful situation as quickly as possible) Eleuthro, Ashwaghanda, and Tulsi, are among my nearest and dearest, but sometimes, if you are tuned into the wild green yonder, a plant will call you, and you would be wise to answer that call. In this case, it has been the oft maligned Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioca / Urtica urens) that sings to me.

Metaphysically, Nettle teaches me about the need for healthy boundaries. Known universally (do they have Nettles on Mars?) for it’s burning sting, it teaches us to treat it, and ourselves, with respect. It also teaches me that sometimes we must endure pain before we can understand the true value of nourishment as a basic human need. Interestingly, the flower essence of Nettle is used during or after times of upheaval, to restore strength and unity.

Physically, while some folk have used the virtue of it’s sting for external use and to encourage the circulation to a specific area (this practice is known as urtication), I take Nettle internally as a nourishing infusion. I find that it gives me grounding and nourishes my adrenals. I have often combined Nettle in tincture form, but on this occasion, for my current needs, a simple but strong infusion prepared after the fashion that herbalist Susun Weed champions, and consumed only once per day, has offered wonderfully strengthening support.

Nettles are so well known, that they need no description; they may be found by feeling, in the darkest night.”  (Nicholas Culpeper, 17th Century herbalist, physician, astrologer, and apparent funny man.)

The Nettle’s sting can hide the rich and precious nourishment that lies beneath. Nettle is rich in chlorophyll, minerals including iron and magnesium, selenium, and zinc, as well as trace minerals boron, sodium, iodine, chromium, copper, and sulfur, silica, calcium, and potassium. It is high in vitamin C, beta-carotenes, other carotene antioxidants, as well as vitamin E, K, the B complexes including thiamin, niacin, and B6, and choline. Additionally, nettle leaves are rich in free amino acids, contributing a whopping 40% protein content in the plant as a whole.

It’s actions are widespread, and have been listed as follows; an astringent, diuretic, tonic, anodyne, pectoral, rubefacient, styptic, anthelmintic, nutritive, alterative, hemetic, anti-rheumatic, anti-allergenic, anti-lithic/lithotriptic, haemostatic, stimulant, decongestant, herpatic, febrifuge, kidney depurative/nephritic, galactagogue, hypoglycemic, expectorant, anti-spasmodic, and anti-histamine.  Oh my!

Historically Stinging Nettle has been used as a nutritive restorative in cases of debilitation, and as a Spring tonic. It restores energy, has been used to treat anaemia, and scurvy, as a diuretic, as an astringent (halts bleeding and dries excessive moisture), and an alterative (blood cleansing, metabolism regulating) tonic, and in the treatment of gout, arthritis, and other inflammatory joint problems. David Hoffman speaks of it’s specificity in cases of childhood eczema, particularly in cases of nervous eczema. This particular affinity coupled with it’s use as an anti-asthmatic (as outlined by Mrs Maude Grieve in her Modern Herbal), as well as for seasonal allergies such as hayfever, is indicative to me of it’s probable influence on the adrenal glands, as well as it’s more well known actions. It has only been recently, that the term ‘adaptogen’ has been applied to the Stinging Nettle. In particular, the seeds, have been found to be a valuable adrenal trophorestorative by Kiva Rose. The root is gaining recognition as a useful treatment for BHP (enlarged prostate).

As well as my own experience working closely with Nettle as a strengthening ally, I like to use Nettle for women, particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy, as a labour aid during birth, and in the post-natal period. I find it valuable as a general strengthening tonic, a preventive for anaemia (and therefore to reduce the incidence of haemorrhage after birth – notwithstanding the consequences of the cascade of intervention), a boost in vitamin K levels for both mum and baby, and to support the production of nutrient-rich breast milk. I feel that it also helps the new mother feel confident with her maternal instincts, which in turn enables her to build healthy boundaries around her new role.

I feel that all women can find an ally in Stinging Nettle. Since imbibing Nettle infusion and practicing the art of nourishment of taking time out during my period, I no longer struggle with PMS, or heavy and prolonged periods. This is extremely helpful when your life is in turmoil anyway.

To make a simple nourishing infusion, I take a 300ml mason (preserving) jar, and fill half of it with dried nettle leaves. I then pour on boiling water until the jar is full, screw the lid on the jar, and let it sit overnight. The next morning, I strain off the spent herb through a nutmilk bag. I then re-use this spent nettle once more for the next day’s infusion and repeat the process. (I use a fresh measurement of dried nettle leaf after that)

When I have strained off the herb, I then either gently reheat the nettle infusion, or drink as is. It should be a very deep dark green in colour, with a pleasantly ‘green’ smell (I can’t describe this any other way. Plant folk will get what I mean.) For palatably, the addition of a few mint leaves to the dried nettle leaf makes a lovely, refreshing, and energizing brew. I drink one cup daily until I feel that I no longer need it. I usually find that a break is good every five days or so, and then my body will tell me when it’s ready for more. Or for an entirely different plant to dance with  🙂

Invite Stinging Nettle into your life and be nourished.

Many Blessings,

Michelle x

References;

Susun Weed – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pKpe_YGUUw

David Hoffman – The Holistic Herbal. Element Books Ltd. 1988. Dorset, UK.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncDLoYq_xeY

Kiva Rose – http://bearmedicineherbals.com/every-woman’s-adaptogen-nettle-seeds-the-adrenals.html

Resources:

If you are unable to harvest your own nettles, you can obtain the dried herb from:

www.australherbs.com.au

www.kodaphytorium.com.au

www.mountainroseherbs.com