Stinging nettles are usually a plant that is avoided, but did you know the stinging nettle has been used for food, herbal remedies, dyes and fibres for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, people were encouraged to collect them so that they could be used to produce a dark green dye for camouflage.
When touched the stinging nettle plant stimulates an allergic reaction when its fine hairs touch the skin. Nettle stings contain acid (formic acid), but they also contain histamine and other chemicals. The exact details are still unknown, but it is the histamine that causes the initial reaction when you are stung. As soon as your skin touches it, you certainly find out why it’s given the name ‘stinging’ nettle. Ouch!!
Many of nettle’s benefits come from its high nutrient content. It contains vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K, along with easily assimilated calcium and iron. Other nutrients include magnesium, potassium, protein, beta-carotene, and chlorophyll.
However, when prepared, nettles may actually help to provide relief for hay fever. This seems to be due to its anti-inflammatory effects which can help with allergy symptoms. Herbalists have been using nettle to deal with seasonal allergies for many years.
Soaking or boiling the stems and leaves, renders the plant’s sting-producing chemicals inert. You can make a nettle tea or use the plant’s leaves as a cooking ingredient. Try blanching nettle leaves, then use as you would spinach, chard, or parsley. A good tip is to use young leaves before the plant flowers and make sure they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals or grown near a road and always wash thoroughly. Nettles are great in soups, curries and my favourite nettle and feta filo pie!
Fun Fact - nettles can actually help your garden grow!
Organic Nettle Feed Recipe - make your garden grow
To make nitrogen-rich nettle feed (nettle tea), pop on a thick pair of gloves, cut or crush the nettles into small pieces and cram into a large container. Weigh the nettles down with bricks and submerge with water (store away from the house, to avoid the smell). Store in a sunny position, if you can, as this speeds up fermentation. Leave for three or four weeks, filter/strain and discard the plant waste to the compost heap (which acts as a natural activator to speed up the decomposition process in compost heaps), then dilute the nettle tea for direct use (one-part concentrate to 10 parts water). Your plants will love it, and your veg patch too!
Your plants will love their organic boost!