Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wild foods: Nettle

In Christina Hindhaugh's book "The Great Herb Tour" she describes Nettle as a plant to revere, not only because of its sting, but because it is "surely one of the most useful herbs on Earth". She writes it can be used for eating as a potherb, making durable cloth, for table linen, fine cloth, clothing, ropes, sailcloth, sacking, twine, fishing nets, a dark green dye for camoflage can be extracted from leaves and a yellow dye from the roots, and also the chlorophyll extracted from leaves is used for medicines. Nettle leaves, which can be made into a tea, are high in iron, vitamin C, and other vitamins and minerals. Medicinally they can fight lethagy, cleanse the kidneys, treat anemia, relieve gout and rheumatism, and lessen a heavy menstrual flow.

Christina's book also describes a hair rinse made by simmering two cups of nettle leaves in half a litre of water. This conditioner can then be cooled, bottled and refrigerated.


Other fun facts about nettle...

  • The scientific name is Urtica spp.
  • The stinging hairs contain Formic Acid (HCO2H) which is the same as ant stings
  • There is at least one species of Nettle that is actually native to Australia.
  • The juice of the leaves in an antidote to the sting of its own leaves (you can also rub on dock or plantain leaves to stop the sting)
  • Nettle has the highest iron of any land plant
  • Leaf juice or a decoction of root is good for treating gangrenous sores and itches, or you can apply bruised leaves to the affected part.
  • Ointment made of juice, oil and a little wax is good to rub on cold or numb fingers or toes.
  • Apply a handful each of nettle and wallwort/deanwort leaves, bruised, to gout, sciatica or joint aches.
  • Astringent, tonic and diuretic properties of dried flowers, leaves, seeds
  • Decoction of root and leaves to treat diarrhea, dysentery, piles, hemorrhages, scorbutic, fevers, kidney complaints.
  • Leaves applied to cuts or wounds to control bleeding
  • Infusions for relieving coughs and shortness of breath
  • Can be applied as lotions to burns
  • Fresh leaves used in teas or beers fights scurvy and purifies the blood
  • The dried herb is rich in minerals and protein and makes excellent fodder, can increase egg and milk yields
  • Fresh green leaves and tops eaten as spring vegetable, added to stews, or made into nettle pudding.
  • Juice of roots and leaves with honey or sugar relieves asthma and bronchial complaints
  • Tincture used for rheumatic gout, chicken pox, nettle rash and bruises.
Organic Matters magazine talks about using nettle for fertiliser...
Fill a container with nettles gathered at any stage up to flowering, cover with water and leave the solution for about two weeks. Strain and dilute in four parts water before spraying. Nettles are a good source of nitrogen containing up to 4%, enough to boost even the weakest plant.The smell from fermented nettles has little to recommend it. If you are sensitive about such things then add a few camomile flowers to the mix to reduce the odor.

Eating nettles

I've eaten nettle on numerous occasions. I collect the leaves by wearing decent gloves and cutting the stems near the ground with scissors, placing it in a bag. Once I get this back to camp I cut the leaves off the stems with my scissors, still wearing gloves, placing the leaves in a pot and the stems are discarded. I then wash the leaves to remove any dirt or foreign matter, and fill the pot with enough water to cover the nettle leaves. I then boil the water. Once the water has reached boiling you can turn off the stove and let it sit for a couple of minutes (just like blanching spinach). This denatures the sting. You can now lose the gloves!

Unlike spinach, you can drink the blanching water for nettle as it doesn't have the oxalic acid. The water is highly nutritious tea or you can use it for cooking. I usually make a cous cous with this water as its just a matter of soaking some of the cous cous in the water for a couple of minutes, possibly the laziest meal to prepare. Adding some cheese, e.g. Parmesan, and the nettle to the cooked cous cous and you have a low GI, high iron meal. You could also cook some rice or pasta. I'd like to try making a 'spinach' pie or 'spinach' and feta roll at some stage, supplementing the spinach with nettle. Basically anywhere you normally use spinach you could use nettle instead, so soups, stews, quiches, baked goods...

Nettles are my favorite wild food. It was hard to find in urban Melbourne, but it is available in great quantities in country Victoria and along the Murray, and no doubt everywhere, if you keep your eye out for it.


   1. The Great Herb Tour by Christina Hindhaugh
   2. Australian Weeds by Gai Stern
   3. A History of Herbal Plants by Richard LeStrange
   4. What Do Organic Growers Do About Foliar Feeds?, Organic Matters magazine

1 comment:

Mal said...

This kind of talk demotivates me from weeding the lawn. I've just bought a new line for the whipper snipper and now this.

I've had dandelion leaves thrown atop a salad with no ill-effects and quite possibly some positive effects.

And what am I going to do with all the Head & Shoulders hair conditioner?

Okay, this isn't a genuinely prickly commentary.

Great read, and I'll be thinking about it when I inspect the back lawn.