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Stinging nettles are a symbol of punishment, plague, and deprivation. They also relieve allergies and make an interesting tea or soup. If you have access to stinging nettles, they make a delicious addition to home cooking and also a versatile home remedy.

Use Stinging Nettle to Make a Soothing Soup, Savory Salsa, or Healing Tea

Nettles grow wild, like dandelions. They have sawtooth-shaped leaves covered with what looks like a silky down, but the tiny strands turn out to be angled tubes filled with an irritant chemical that discourages grazing animals (and grazing humans) from eating the plant. These tiny spikes give the nettle the sting that gives it its name.

The chemical breaks down in hot water, so nettles can be eaten after they are cooked. Nettles taste like spinach, only with a deeper, richer flavor that makes them a hearty addition to soups, stews, and even salads. (Just be sure never to serve nettles raw!)

Where do you get nettles?

If you have access to wild nettles, you can find them in grasslands from late spring until early winter. Be sure to wear gloves when you pick nettles. Nettles are sold in groceries and green markets during the same times of year. Nettles typically are grown locally and eaten locally, so you will only be able to find them in season.

How do you use nettles in cooking?

Boil nettles as you would boil spinach, but don't throw away the water. It makes an interesting addition to muesli or cooked breakfast grains. You can also drink the liquid warm as an herbal tea.

Serve nettles as a green, or chop them into pine nuts, Pecorino cheese, garlic, and olive oil to make a pesto without basil. Saute with butter and process in a food processor to make sauce for boiled potatoes or roasted fish, or make a stinging nettle salsa. To make the salsa you mix stinging nettles with bitter salad vegetables (dandelion, radicchio, or red leaf lettuce, for example), handling them carefully so you are not stung, blanch, drain thoroughly, chop, and mix with shallot, capers, vinegar, and oil.

And how do you use stinging nettle teas as a home remedy?

Stinging nettles are used in home remedies that work on the principle of similars, fighting a stinging health condition with a stinging herb. The famous English herbalist Mrs. M. Grieve, for example, recommended stinging nettle tea for treating arthritis, and nasal allergies. The American botanist and herb expert Dr. James Duke explains that the magnesium in stinging nettles helps the body absorb calcium for bone health, and also helps the central nervous system manage pain signals from tired joints.

The German Commission E Monographs recommended stinging nettles as a remedy for prostate problems. The German government, in fact, authorizes insurance companies to pay pharmacies for doctor-prescribed stinging nettles used to treat prostate problems in men and urinary tract infections in both sexes, although German doctors are more likely to recommend the freeze-dried herb in capsules.

Stinging nettle teas are also used to treat skin allergies, even though the raw herb can cause memorable skin irritation.

In Europe, you can find Phytalgic®, a stinging nettle formula that a clinical trial found to be more effective than any other herbal or prescription medication for osteoarthritis. Its only side effect was a strangely "fishy" taste. You don't get the fishy flavor from stinging nettle used as a vegetable or to make herbal tea. In the USA, you can find freeze-dried stinging nettle in capsules, also free of the fishy flavor of Phytalgic.

The only thing you have to remember about nettles in herbal remedies is to pick stinging nettles, not dead nettles. If it doesn't sting, it isn't curative. Handle nettles with care in the kitchen, and eat them regularly to keep arthritis, allergies, and urinary tract infections at bay.

  • Jacquet A, Girodet PO, Pariente A, Forest K, Mallet L, Moore N: Phytalgic(R) a food supplement, vs placebo in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Arthritis Res Ther 2009, 11:R192.
  • Photo courtesy of sassyradish on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/sassyradish/3661468266/