I passed a lovely afternoon recently in harvesting my first nettle seeds of the year. They are so abundant right now and so helpful during these busy periods that it was a real pleasure to get out gathering them.
There are a couple of great articles on the internet describing how to harvest nettle seeds along with their uses which I highly recommend reading, notably those by Henriette here and here and Kiva Rose here and here. Though many people know how beneficial nettle leaf can be, until the recent revival of interest in nettle seeds it was a little used remedy in modern herbal medicine. Even now it seems to be much more popular amongst traditional herbalists and herbwives rather than medical herbalists, not that the distinction is always so clear.
The benefits of nettle seeds have some overlap with those of the leaf, both being strengthening, mineral rich, great for skin and hair and for supporting the kidneys and urinary system. Whereas the leaf is gentler and more nourishing however, the seed packs more of a punch.
According to Henriette, ‘Nettle seeds are adaptogens. They help with the general stress response, they strengthen the adrenals, and they’re loaded with minerals and trace elements’. As most of the hype around adaptogens has centred on exotic plants from far away lands it’s particularly nice to have such a great example growing abundantly here in the UK. I always think that the medicines we need most are the ones which are most abundant near where we live and in these stressed-out, sped-up times, for many of us nettle seed is no exception.
Useful for chronic exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and burnout, nettle seeds have also been used to aid kidney function in both people and animals with degenerative conditions. David Winston writes here, ‘I discovered Nettle Seed could be used as a kidney trophorestorative – literally a food for the kidneys. I have used the seed tincture to treat over 30 cases of degenerative kidney disease and the results have far exceeded my expectations. A recent study published in the Journal of The American Herbalist Guild [4(2):22-25] confirms my clinical experience, showing that Nettle Seed increases kidney glomerular function and reduces serum creatinine levels. Many herbalists have seen significant benefits from using Nettle Seed tincture in patients with glomerulonephritis, chronic nephritis with degeneration, and to protect the kidneys from nephrotoxic medications.’ Impressive stuff.
As the endocrine glands work together to maintain a subtle balance in the body, often a medicine that affects one of them will have a knock on effect throughout the entire system. So nettle seeds can help harmonise the whole of the endocrine system, though their primary action is to balance the adrenals.
Last year, Sara Jane of Brighton’s Green Aprons group told me that taking just a small amount of the fresh green seeds had kept her awake the whole night. Kiva Rose has also spoken of the overstimulating effects of the fresh seed. They don’t seem to affect me in quite the same way, so perhaps it’s constitutional. From an Ayurvedic perspective I imagine Pitta types would find them quite stimulating but Kaphas could benefit from their energising effects. I’m pretty Vata and, as I say, they haven’t ever kept me awake, though they did give me a surprising and uncharacteristic motivation to do lots of housework! Perhaps I shall make my fortune marketing them as the new ‘mother’s little helpers’. Or perhaps not.
To be on the safe side, it’s best to take the dried seeds as they have a more gently restorative action and are energising without being too stimulating.
The first time I harvested the seeds I ignored Henriette’s advice and, like many a young herbalist who disregards the voice of experience and wisdom, I came a-cropper. As she suggests, nettle seeds do seem to harbour a remarkable amount and variety of insect life, so it’s really best to do as she says and cut whole stems rather than just the seeds and hang them for a few days to allow the wildlife to escape. I take them down before they are completely dry and finish them in the dehydrator but that’s just because years of living in damp houses have made me cautious of air drying anything. Once dry, strip off the strands of seeds and rub them through a sieve, you’ll be left with a beautiful harvest of dried nettle seeds.
Most of the nettles growing near me are the perennial Urtica dioica but if the annual Urtica urens is more abundant near you then do remember when collecting seeds that the success of next year’s new plants depends on them. If you have only a few plants in your area, look elsewhere for your bounty. This lovely nettle patch, and a couple more like it, are just outside my house so I’m lucky not to have to worry about over harvesting!
Nettle seeds are so easy to incorporate into your daily diet and can be thought of as much as a nourishing ‘superfood’ as they are a medicine. Sprinkle them on salads, soups, in sandwiches or blend in smoothies. Take up to a teaspoon a day and see how you go, you can use more or less depending on how they affect you.
I make a delicious seasoning from nettle seeds, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, mixed herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper.
This amount of nettles filled an average size jar with dried seeds. I’ll need to do another few harvests in order to make a tincture from the fresh seed and stock enough dried seeds to see me through the year.
For more detailed info on when to pick and how to process nettle seed see this post here.