My first encounter with a nettle was near the beach in Florida. I was walking barefoot on a gravel road when I stubbed my toe. I jumped on my one good foot, waiting for the stinging to stop…right into a stand of nettles. Despite the fact that I was nearly killed that day, the plant and its ability to protect itself fascinated me.
Nettle hairs are tiny silica tubes filled with venom, like a mythical glass serpent fang. When you brush against them the glass tips break off as they pierce your skin and the venom is released. Despite this gruesome defense tactic, or in some cases because of it, nettles have been used since antiquity for a myriad of reasons, from the medicinal to the magical to the mundane.
In ancient Egypt nettle flogging, called urtication, was used to treat arthritis, lethargy, typhus, and cholera. When the Roman soldiers marched to Britannia with Julius Caesar to kill the Druids, they planted nettles in the cold climate and rubbed it on their extremities to combat their weary muscles and freezing skin. Got a bloody nose? An old European remedy was to put a nettle leaf on the roof of your mouth. Supposedly the venom will coagulate and stop the bleeding!
For those in the magic realm, nettle sprinkled around the house or thrown in the fire wards off danger. A practitioner can hold nettle in her hand to keep ghosts at bay or wear it as an amulet to keep negativity away. If kept with yarrow, nettle can also bring courage.
Nettle fibers have been used for thousands of years to make burial shrouds, sacks, fishing nets and lines, as well as sails and sailing cordage. The strength of nettle fibers is said to rival that of hemp fiber. In World War I, nettle was used as an alternative to cotton during textile shortages. European army uniforms were both woven from and dyed by chlorophyll rich nettles. In Siberia it was used to make paper, in China, a silk like material.
We have all the paper and cotton we need…what’s nettle good for now? Fresh, its a gourmet green, to be used in pesto or spinach pie. Dried, its used to treat anemia, allergies, inflammation, exhaustion and even cabin fever.
Rosemary Gladstar calls it “one of the best all around women’s tonic herbs…one of [her] personal favorites.” Rich in easily digestible iron for the blood, calcium and boron for the bones, selenium, zinc, and sulfur for immune building, and chromium for metabolism, nettles are incredibly good for many systems in our bodies. Susan Weed says that “Nettle smoothly and persistently carries optimum nourishment to every cell in the body, and brings a smile to your face.”
Once you hear all of the fantastic benefits of the mighty nettle, it’s quite easy to understand the old proverb-
Better to be stung by a nettle, than pricked by a rose!
Cultured Nettle Drink
What you need-
Warm up a mason jar by running it under hot water. Put the two cups of nettle in the jar. Boil around three cups of hot water and pour over the nettles. Stir, cover loosely, and let this mixture cool. Once it’s around room temperature, strain out the nettle, add the molasses, vegan culture, and the fruit juice (you can add plain fruit too, if you prefer). Put this into your fermentation station for 24 hours. Refrigerate and drink!
Studies have shown that culturing foods makes the mineral content more accessible, along with the many benefits that come with eating cultured foods. Since nettles are so high in so many vitamins and minerals, you can be sure to get a good shot of life with this drink!