Stinging nettles are notoriously irritating if you should happen to wander into a patch. So named because of the burning pain that occurs when you accidentally brush up against a stinging nettle, most people try to avoid stinging nettles at all costs. Did you know they can also be beneficial? It is a little-known fact that stinging nettle leaves are actually high in nutrients, and many people enjoy their taste.
- Use only stinging nettles that have grown naturally. In many areas, chemical pesticides or herbicides may be spread. Do not eat these nettles, as they will contain some chemical residues. Instead, find nettles that have grown naturally, without such chemicals and away from other contaminants that may occur around buildings. If in doubt, you can purchase naturally-grown dried nettles in natural food stores or online.
- Be careful when collecting stinging nettles. Of course, you want to avoid getting stung by the nettles you are trying to collect. Wear long sleeves and pants, along with gloves. Most nettles grow on abandoned lots, in fields, or in the forest. These areas may have other dangers, so be careful when walking around deserted areas collecting nettles. Use sharp scissors to collect the leaves. Nettles may be found nearly anywhere, on most continents, though they are most often seen in North America and Europe. Only collect plants that are less than 6" tall; older plants have to much silicon, and are usually more bitter.
- Make tea. First, wash the leaves thoroughly. Wear gloves, or use kitchen tongs. At this stage the nettle leaves can still sting you. Dry the leaves and flowers, and then make a tea from them. Combine about 1 teaspoon crushed nettle leaves with a cinnamon stick. Mix with boiling water, and let steep for a few minutes. Then strain. You may want to add a little honey as a sweetener. The heat kills the chemicals that cause a stinging reaction.
- Eat the leaves. The young leaves of the stinging nettle plant are edible as long as they are cooked first. They have a taste that has been compared to mild spinach, and in fact can be cooked in many of the same ways that you would cook spinach. Nettle leaves are commonly sautéed with garlic and olive oil. They can also be used in soup. Stinging nettles are high in iron, and can also be a good source of other minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, riboflavin, thiamine, and others. Nettle was once used to treat scurvy because of its Vitamin C content.
- Use the fiber in clothing. As an alternative to cotton or flax, this plant fiber can be used to weave cloth. It was once used widely in Europe for this purpose.
Though you may be surprised that stinging nettles can actually be eaten, they have been said to contain many medicinal properties. In centuries past, fresh nettle leaves were deliberately applied to the skin, provoking inflammation in patients with rheumatism and other conditions.