Plant of the week: Stinging Nettles
Urtica urens dioica and gracilis
Last weekend found me and my family biking from upper Rossland down to Redstone for lunch and continuing down the wagon road to Warfield. Along the way we stopped just before a muddy patch to discover a good stash of Stinging Nettles, which are now young, ripe and ready for harvesting.
Just to make sure it was indeed this green ally, I took a close look to view the fine hairs that poke out on the stems and leaves. Out of curiosity my son asked if they are edible. I replied yes, Stinging Nettles are, but before I finish explaining he’s already put the leaf onto his tongue.
He quickly discovered why they are called Stinging Nettles. I told him not to worry, the stinging will pass.
My grandparents of Europe remember the elderly running through fields in the forests of Czech Republic purposely barelegged to stimulate circulation and to alleviate medical conditions. I clasped the plant in my hand as the tiny hairs sting my fingers and I envision the medicinal properties moving through and into my well being.
The little hairs or bristles are hollow, and act as “hypodermic needles” that contain formic acid.
This can be prevented if you harvest wearing leather gloves or by carefully picking the stalks with your thumb and forefingers. Make sure the stinging nettle is properly identified before harvesting and note that some people may react to this plant.
I neither claim to be plant expert nor a formalized herbalist.
The morning and evening times are best before the blazing heat, always collect them dry, the younger the plant the more tender they are.
Stinging Nettles are one of the most valuable of our neglected herbs, for they contain such health-giving salts. Boiled as spinach they afford excellent green food during the early spring, when other green vegetable are scarce in the garden.
Urtica: uro (Greek) means urine (in Latin) urens is stinging, burning. Gracilis translates to “slender, graceful.’ This plant is a tonic for the adrenals and kidneys. Throughout Europe and North America are many more useful species of Urtica.
There are too many uses to list with this plant in one column but to brief Nettles may have been cultivated in Mexico as early as 8,000 years ago; the fiber is used in paper pulp and spun and woven into strong thread. Dye in various shades of green are derived as well as in prepared hair lotions, tonics, tinctures, teas, juice, compost activator, insecticides, soups, quiches and beer.
Nettle leaves and stalks can be used as an everyday nourisher, the fresh young leaves are an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and amino acids, protein building blocks.
Stinging Nettle Fun Fact: The Tibetan Buddhist Saint Milarepa, student of the great translator Marpa, lived exclusively on nettles in his retreat: and it is said that he became both green and enlightened.
Monika Smutny works in Sales at the Rossland News