The Amazing & Adaptable Stinging Nettle Plant


This is an article I wrote for Yoga Living Magazine last spring….

Spring is here and all that energy stored in the ground is finally bursting forth. Besides the beautiful spring ephemerals, ramps will soon be in season and roots that were too difficult to pull in the winter can now be harvested.  And as spring progresses, one of my favorite plants, stinging nettles, is coming back to life.  Although not showy plant, it is one that you will definitely want to get acquainted with because it is one of the most nutritious and highly medicinal plants in the forest.  It also a vigorous grower and can be harvested without fear of over use.

Identifying stinging nettles is important not only for its use, but to be able to avoid brushing up against it.   The plant has tiny hairs on the stems that if touched can cause a stinging rash. If you plan on experimenting with nettles, I encourage you to research images of it online and become better visually acquainted with it.

A perennial herb reaching between two to four feet high, stinging nettle leaves are either egg shaped or heart shaped. Both leaf variants are sharply toothed around the edges.  The flowers are small and green. Nettles generally prefer to grow in conditions that are wet and shady, but this hardy plant and can be find in a variety of locations.  They are often found in large patches along wooded paths.  If you have a yard, you can fence a portion of it off and plant your own nettles to ensure a good supply.

Nettle Nutrition

Nettles have a high nutritional content.  An ounce of nettle leaf has almost 1 gram of calcium, 285 mg of magnesium, 583 mg of potassium, 1.4 mg of iron and 130 mcg of chromium[1], thus making it a great food!  A polish study showed that one gram of nettles yielded 5 mg of silicon[2], which is the building blocks for skin, hair and joints.

Nettle Medicine

Nettle leaf has many traditional uses including inflammatory issues such as asthma, allergies, arthritis (osteo, rheumatoid and gout) chronic diarrhea and dysentery, and kidney inflammation and stones.[3]  The seeds (or fruit) and roots have been used to reduce the inflammation in the prostate[4] and Herbalists and Alchemists is the only company I know that sells a nettle seed tincture.

Many Native American tribes used it for purposes like keeping blood flowing and easing stomach ailments. In some instances, extensive use of self-flagellation with the fresh nettles followed by a sweat bath was prescribed for joint pain.[5]

An infusion of nettles, vinegar, and rosemary can also be used as a rinse to strengthen weak or brittle hair.[6]

Harvesting Nettles

For harvesting nettles you will need a bag to put it in, a pair of pruning sheers or a knife, and long gloves to avoid touching the tiny hairs.  Once you’ve gathered it, be sure to rinse it thoroughly with water.  After rinsing, it can be dried for future use.

Drying Nettles and Making Fresh Tinctures

You can also make a fresh tincture by chopping it up really well, stuffing it into a glass jar about 3/4ths full and then adding Everclear to the jar so it is completely filled.  Cover and shake daily for about 3 weeks.  Strain well, label and bottle.

If you are drying your nettles and saving them for a later time, make sure you rinse them well then put them on a drying rack (I use a mesh one made for sweaters, but even old window screens will do as long as they are clean).  Once thoroughly dried, put your gloves on and in large bowl, take each stem and strip it of the leaves.  Once I have a big bowl of nettles, I grind them in my Vitamix or food processor.  This way they take up less space, although this isn’t necessary.  The early spring roots are highly nutritious as well, so feel free to harvest some, just don’t take them all.

Eating & Drinking Nettles

Once cleaned and rinsed thoroughly with water, nettles can be eaten as a fresh vegetable. Think of them as spinach with a more distinctive and peppery zing.  Steaming them will wilt the tiny stinging hairs, and then they can be sautéed as eaten as a side dish or mixed into with other vegetables, soups or omelets. Another popular use is to mix them with potatoes for a lively, satisfying soup. They can also be mixed with other herbs to make a refreshing summer tea. Recipes for both are included here.

Spring Nettle Soup

8 cups of nettle leaves, firmly packed

1 medium size onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced or put through the garlic press
2 tbsps grass fed butter
8 cups stock (vegetable or chicken broth both work well)
6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cubed

Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Lemon Juice (optional, to taste)

Crème Fraiche or Sour Cream (optional, to drizzle into the soup before serving)

In a soup pot, melt the butter and sauté the onion until it becomes soft and translucent. Add the garlic at the end and sauté until lightly golden. Add your choice of stock and bring to a simmer. Add chopped potatoes and simmer until soft (15-20 minutes). Add salt and pepper as desired.

While the potatoes are cooking, rinse the nettle leaves in water (wear gloves while handling the nettles to prevent stinging) and steam them lightly for 2-3 minutes until wilted. Add the steamed nettles to the stock mix then mash, puree or blend to the desired consistency. Some folks like it chunkier and other smoother.

Finish the soup with a spritz of lemon juice, salt and pepper and a drizzle of sour cream or crème fraiche as desired to add additional creaminess or tang to the soup.

Nettle Tea

Rinse the nettles, and then place them into a boiling pot of water.  Turn off the heat, cover and let them steep for 10 minutes.  Strain thoroughly and drink or put it in the refrigerator, mixed with other herbs for an herbal tea blend (one of my summer favorites is equal part nettle leaves, peppermint leaves, holy basil and licorice root) or frozen in ice cubes to a used to cool and flavor water or other liquid concoctions.

So, now that spring is here, why not hike over to your local woods and start looking for some stinging nettle—you’ll be glad to have found it.


[1] Paul Bergner, 2001, The Mineral Content of Herbs

[2] Piekos, R, Paslawska S: Planta Med 28(2): 145-150, 1975.

[3] Bone, K., “A Clinical Guide to Blending Herbs”

[4] Mills and Bone: “Principles and Practices of Phototherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine”

[5] Daniel Moreman “Native American Ethnobotany”

[6] Eric Yarnell “Urtica spp (Nettles)”


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