When I was a teenager, I was enthralled by the story of Milarepa, "Tibet's Greatest Yogi," who, after a great career as a murderously vengeful black magician, had a change of heart, and transformed himself, in part by great austerities, and became a great and beneficent human being, one of Tibet's most respected heroes.
At one point Milarepa spent 12 years in the cold high mountains, meditating and living only on soup made from Nettles and herbs. This is one of the most exciting moments in his story. And I remember wondering at the time what these Nettles were; I had heard of them before, and knew they grew wild in the forest, but somehow equated them with lichen and moss. They sounded profoundly unappetizing.
But no, Nettles (Urtica dioica) are more like wildflowers, shooting up all over the Northern Hemisphere every Spring, and rising to 2 meters by mid-Summer. Spring comes early to the southwest coast of California, today is Feb 11 and the wild Nettles growing on the shaded slopes of San Diego's Florida Canyon ecosystem are already two weeks old. But it is not really yet Spring, this is our rainy season, and in Ayurveda this time is thought of as the latter half of winter.
Late Winter and Early Spring in Ayurvedic thought are both dominated by Kapha-the Water Element: moisture abounds, there is rain or snow, and then in Spring the snows melt and rivers rage. This increases the strength of Kapha within us, making the body prone to problem of dampness and phlegm. Whereas in late Autumn and Early Winter it was appropriate to eat heavier tonifying food, now is a good time to gradually ease into lighter, cleansing, "Kapha Pacifying"food, like steamed vegetables, quinoa, mung dal, brown rice. Nettles are an excellent choice, as like all green "super" foods they "nourish the blood" and at the same time "cleanse" it.
How To Harvest and Use Fresh Nettles:
Stinging Nettles are a wonderful vegetable that tastes something like spinach. And
when you cook, soak, or dry Nettles, they lose their stinging propertyCollect them with gloves on, cutting the top 5 inches before they flower, and either hang them up to dry to use later, put them in vinegar for salad dressing, or cook them into soups or stews.
I like them a lot cooked with potato and garlic with olive oil. In fact you can use Nettles any way you would use spinach. Just bring them home and soak them in water first, so you can handle them like a vegetable. Another way to use them is to dry them for tea, but what I prefer is to cook fresh nettles in a pot of water, and drink that liquid all day as a cleansing tea.
Nutritional Properties of Nettles
Nettles are high in calcium, iron, magnesium, chromium, potassium, and zinc, as well as vitamins A, B, C, D and K. Nettles are also rich in carotene and of course chlorophyll. With all that calcium and iron, they make an excellent food for vegans or vegetarians. They also contain protein.
Nettle vinegar can be made by soaking the fresh herbs in your favorite vinegar. The vinegar leaches the calcium and other minerals out of the nettles, and then you can sprinkle the vinegar on salads, veggies, stir fry, and it will be nourishing. You can even use this same vinegar when cooking greens like collards or kale, as the acidity of the vinegar (or lemon) again makes the minerals in the greens more bio-available.
Nettles in Medicine
Nettles have many medicinal uses. I have used encapsulated freeze-dried Nettles with great success for seasonal allergy. It is an accepted standard of care. This is the brand even my western M.D. recommends his patients: http://www.eclecticherb.com/
I have also used Nettles, both dried as tea, and freeze dried, along with other therapies, for allergic dermatitis, a form of eczema, with excellent results.
Here are addresses for two different reliable suppliers of dried Nettle leaf:
http://www.mountainroseherbs.com and http://www.inharmonyherbs.com/ In Harmony herbs is right here in San Diego's Ocean Beach.
Nettle leaf is an herb that has a long tradition of use in the treatment of arthritis in Europe, as it seems to work via an anti-inflammatory process. Extracts of Nettles can be used also to treat anemia, kidney stones, benign prostatic hypertrophy (bph) and pain. Because of the high Vitamin K levels avoid these if on blood thinners.
Nettles are also a galactalogue; that means they can increase and improve the quantity and quality of a mother's breast milk. Here is a link specifically for nursing moms, especially those who struggle with milk production.
Nettles in Skin Care
Nettle is used in hair shampoos and rinses to control dandruff, and is also said to make hair glossy. What I like to do is boil my Nettles for soup or tea and just set some aside in a bottle. When I wash my hair, after rinsing out the soap or conditioner, I do a final rinse with this Nettle tea and just leave it in.
One can also make a dandruff treatment by pouring heated vinegar over chopped fresh or dried Nettles and Comfrey, let it sit for an hour, strain, and massage this into your scalp and let it sit for 30 minutes before shampooing.
Nettles has good astringent qualities, so it is beneficial to any of the mucus membranes of the body; it can be used as a mouth rinse (steep with mint), as a vaginal wash for vaginitis and yeast, and topically on eczema.
If you have any questions, or have any good recipes for cooking with Nettles, please let me know.
above material copyright eyton j. shalom,san diego 2009 use with permission.
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego