The stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a plant despised by many for the stinging hairs on its stem and leaves but loved by herbalists for centuries. In the early spring, nettle leaves are one of the first greens to appear. Their distinct, rich dark green color are indicative of their high vitamin and mineral content.
Nettle is well respected for strengthening the blood and recommended specifically for people struggling with anemia and overall vitality deficiencies. The plant is rich in iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc along with a host of other nutrients.
When I was pregnant with both of my boys and told I was low on iron, I drank nettle tea like it was going out of style. I got great results and now recommend it to many of my pregnant and nursing friends as they try to build a healthy, mineral-rich environment for their babies. When my family moved from our country home to the “big city” I had my husband build a sturdy little wooden frame in our backyard to house my nettles. A true country herbalist can’t move to the city without her wild nettle patch!
Every year, the nettles defy my backyard laws by attempting to jump the fence into freedom—a willfully spirited, rebellious plant indeed. On the weekends, I arm my two boys with thick gloves, clippers and a metal pail. Part hunter-gatherers, part wild warriors, they collect as many leaves as possible without getting stung for our cheese and nettle omelets. What a gift after months of guilty dependence on the produce section—free fresh greens sprouting from the backyard!
Try drinking nettle tea on a regular basis to enhance overall mineral and vitamin intake in your diet. You can collect your own wild nettles (but be careful while gathering them) or buy them dried. Nettles are paired well with raspberry leaf, milky oats and lemon balm in a tea, especially after a long or exhausting day. Or, you can try cooking with the fresh greens. A beloved teacher of mine always makes her famous nettle spanakopita in the spring, substituting nettles for spinach. It's a real treat!
An important note on the usage of nettle: You must always cook nettles before eating them—though some people do deliberately sting themselves with the plant in a practice called urtication, which is believed to energize the muscles, capillaries and nervous system. It also causes the body to secrete antihistamine. I’ve heard it can be a successful treatment for cases of painful arthritis.