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Archive for the ‘Nettle’ Category

Nettle Seed

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.

Abundant and ready to harvest.

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.

Harvest now will the seeds are hanging in strands

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 Patch

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.

Nettle Seed Harvest

For more detailed info on when to pick and how to process nettle seed see this post here.

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The best known wild food dish is probably nettle soup. There’s actually quite a lot you can do with nettles, using them in the same way you’d use spinach (except of course for in a baby leaf salad – ouch).

However nettle soup is still probably my favourite and I have it at least once a week at this time of year. To stop if from getting dull I do a few different variations which you can adjust according to your preferences.

The Classic Nettle Soup:

The classic nettle soup is essentially nettles, onion, garlic, stock, seasoning and a potato. Lightly fry the onion in a little olive oil, add the garlic, then the potato and stock and cook till the potato is tender. Add the nettles and cook for a couple of minutes to break down the stings, blend the whole thing up and voila. The potato makes it creamy and gives it a thicker consistency if you like a more substantial soup. What’s good about this recipe is that you can vary it quite a lot, adding lemon if you want something fresher or, my favourite on an early spring day when it’s still wee bit nippy out, chilli and rosemary. Nutmeg is also nice and you can use a can of cannellini beans to make the soup creamy instead of the potato.

Nettle, Leek and Herb Soup with Lemon Cashew Cream:

Herby Nettle and Leek with Cashew Cream

This is a really tasty soup and very quick and simple to whip up in a hurry. You’ll need:

For the Soup:

  • 2 leeks
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Colander full of nettles
  • Veggie stock
  • Fresh herbs- I use marjoram, sage and thyme, a few sprigs of each
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Lightly fry the leeks in the oil, add all the other ingredients, cook for just a couple of mins to break down the nettle stings, blend up and enjoy with a swirl of lemon cashew cream.

    For the Cashew Cream:

  • 1 cup cashews
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Pinch salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Blend all the ingredients in a high powered blender adding the water until you reach the desired consistency, it’s better a little thicker than regular cream would be.

    Raw Nettle Soup:

    Being a big fan of my nettles straight from the hedgerow as i wrote about here, I thought I’d try out a raw nettle soup, a bit like a nettle gazpacho, in order to keep all the nutrients in the nettles in their whole and vital state. I love this version, it so vibrant and energising, but it’s not to everyone’s taste… my hubby thinks it’s gross!

    Raw Nettle Soup

    All you have to do is blend together the following ingredients, pour into a bowl and serve. The speed and pressure of the blender will break down the nettle stings but make sure it’s blended completely smooth.

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 spring onion
  • 3 wild garlic leaves
  • About a centimeter ginger
  • Half an apple
  • Sprig of fresh herbs, chives, dill or thyme are nice
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh nettle tops with thick central stems removed
  • 1 cup water
  • Nettle Dahl:
    When I fancy something a bit more substantial one of my favourite dinners is a nettle dahl.

    Nettle Dahl


    I just make a simple dahl with red lentils, spices, onion, garlic and ginger and add the nettles for the last couple of minutes of cooking time.
    In fact you can add nettles to many of your favourite curry dishes, it works really well and is just as delicious as spinach, chard or other greens.

    Happy foraging, I’d love to hear your favourite nettle soup recipe if you have one.

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    Hooray! Nettle season is upon us once more and I managed my first harvest yesterday. This is my favourite time for nettle foraging as they are so young and fresh.

     

    The thing I love most about fresh nettles is their smell. Somehow it evokes the exact combination of the greenness of their leaves and the earthiness of their roots and it makes me feel more alive just to inhale it.

    I have long suspected that the green sludge in Popeye’s can that turned him from simple sailor to superhero was actually nettle, mistakenly labelled as spinach. Nettle is such a powerhouse of nutrition that it is one of my favourite foods as well as one of my favourite medicinal herbs. Including some in your daily diet is better than many a multi vitamin. They are high in iron which is easily absorbed due to the fact they also contain Vitamin C. They help the circulation as well as balancing blood sugar and energy levels. They are great at this time of year as they are both cleansing and building, so not only do they help rid us of accumulations and activate the kidneys but they also make sure we are strengthened and nourished after the hard winter months. They are, in my book, the perfect spring food and best of all, they are everywhere!

    You can use nettle instead of spinach in any cooked dishes such as bakes, lasagnes and everyone’s favourite, nettle soup. The way I really love to eat them however is raw, and straight from the hedgerow.

    There’s a special knack to picking and eating nettles without getting stung but its very easy really as long as you are careful. Just pluck the top off the plant, just the first few leaves, taking them from underneath by pinching the stem with your nails. Then roll them into a very tight ball, squidging them as you go to break down the fine hairs that contain the sting. Then pop them in your mouth and eat… yum.

    There are so many ways to enjoy nettles, I’ll be sure to post on them again before the spring is out as I make my year’s supply of tincture, vinegar and other nettle delights. Until then, happy foraging 🙂

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