Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stinging Nettle.

Weeds. Love them or hate them; they're the one thing a farmer can depend on. You can weed and weed until the cows (or sheep) come home. But you might as well embrace them, or in this case, at least eat them.

Although you probably get itchy just thinking about it, Stinging Nettle is one of the most useful weeds around, from farm to plate.

You can soak nettles in a bucket of water for a few weeks to make a compost tea for your plants and vegetables. It will help promote plant growth as a fertilizer, as well as boosting the immunity of plants to ward off pests and disease. It should be diluted before use, though apparently undiluted it can be used as an organic herbicide. Being high in nitrogen, nettles can also act as a compost activator as it stimulates fermentation. As a companion plant, nettle helps neighboring plants grow more resistant to spoiling, as well as stimulating humus formation.

Surely a plant with such a bite is protecting something. Stinging nettle is very rich in potassium, magnesium, iron, protein, minerals, tannins, chloropyll, antioxidants and vitamins A and C. The reason nettles sting is due to the hairs on the underleaf being full of formic acid, acetylcholine, serotonin, histamine and some unknown compounds. You can take the sting out of nettle by drying, cooking or steeping her.

The young, tender shoots are delicious steamed, or fried in a little (or a lot if you feel the same way as most people do about it) butter with some garlic. It can also be made into a nettle puree or pesto, and I hear cream of nettle soup is quite scrumptious. Save the cooking water, as it's very high in iron.

Don't even get me started on the medicinal qualities of nettles, or it would be summer and the nettles would be already getting huge and bitter before I finished rambling. .. but to name a few:

Nettle tea has been used to treat a variety of ailments, from anemia, poor circulation, increasing milk production in mothers, bladder infections, as well as helping to relieve bronchitis, asthma, hives, hayfever, kidney stones, gout, multiple sclerosis. It can be used in a mouthwash to fight plaque and gingivitis. It is a great spring tonic as it works as a blood purifier, and fights fatigue as we shake the last remnants of winter out of our bones. Nettles are an expectorant, and help with coughs, mucus in the lungs as well as for the flue, colds, bronchitis and pneumonia. Nettle tea compress or dried, powdered nettles can be used on wounds, cuts, burns and stings.

The Ojibwa made a tea of the roots to treat urinary ailments and for use as a diuretic. Nettle is high in boron, which has been said to raise estrogen levels, henceforth improving short-term memory and helping raise the mood of people suffering from Alzheimers disease. Purposefully stinging ones skin with nettles has been used for centuries to treat rheumatism, arthritis, paralysis and now multiple sclerosis.

Nettles have also been used historically as a fibre, for making twine, snares, fishing nets, paper, cloth and rope. The roots can be boiled down to make a yellow dye. It is said that Roman soldiers, when chilled with cold, rubbed their hands and feed with nettles to bring back circulation. Traditionally, nettles were dried to feed to livestock during the winter, and a nettle infusion was given to anemic or sick livestock.

I even stumbled upon a recipe for Stinging Nettle wine. . . If you haven't already, go harvest some nettles. Melissa told me that she heard if you ask the nettles nicely, they won't bite you.. . I'm still a bit wary of their lil furry teeth, and so unless you're feeling venturesome, perhaps wear some gloves.. .

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