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Spring 2007 issue #12

Stinging Nettles

by Cornelis van Dalen, ND DipHom                                            
This is a tale with a sting. The Goddess S frequently proclaims that she wishes to be thrashed with them, as were the Roman soldiers to improve circulation, to keep warm in the cold English climate, and other manifold reasons. Nettles grow everywhere; enjoy their presence in the garden.

Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist named the stinging nettle Urtica dioica; dioica meaning ‘two houses’ as the nettle plant will either bear male or female flowers. Urtica urens, lesser nettle, is the other widespread variety. One needs to know the difference: the latter urens is used in homoeopathy, whereas the taller dioica is used for biodynamic compost preparation. But for the purposes of free food and home medicine, either will do, as we shall see later.

“One day he (Monsieur Madeleine) saw some peasants busy plucking out Nettles; he looked at the heap of plants uprooted and withered, and said – ‘They are dead. Yet it would be well if people knew how to make use of them. When the nettle is young, its leaves form an excellent vegetable; when it matures, it has filaments and fibres like hemp and flax. Nettle fabric is good as canvas. Chopped, the nettle is good for poultry; pounded good for cattle. The seed of the nettle mingled with fodder imparts a gloss to the coat of animals; its root mixed with salt produces a beautiful yellow colour. It is besides excellent hay and can be cut twice. And what does the nettle require? Little earth, no attention, no cultivation. Only the seed falls as it ripens, and it is difficult to gather. That is all. With a little trouble, the nettle would be useful; it is neglected, and becomes harmful.” [1]

This short passage from Victor Hugo sums up bountiful Nature. What is weed and despised is actually rather important. In the early years of the 20th century nettle was also used for the production of sugar, protein, starch and ethyl alcohol (now called biofuel). Behold, this may yet return! And the cloth it once made was considered only slightly inferior to silk, as well as made into the coarseness of canvas, sacking and rope. Flax (linen) and hemp (jute) were introduced to replace it. It was said to be difficult to extract the fibre from nettle, hence it was supplanted by flax and hemp. [2]

Nettles as a source of health and healing
“In the spring, when the snow has melted and the warm wind thaws the ground, life once again begins to stir in Mother Nature’s womb. On sunny slopes, steep paths and even on disused refuse heaps, the green, finely serrated leaves of the nettle appear. Hardly anyone notices it, but it quietly grows while using its juices to produce a medicine than can bring health to many, and even save lives. If only people knew the benefits of this plant and used it. Many a sufferer of tuberculosis would not have died had he gone out of his way to gather nettles and avail himself of their goodness. How many children might have had their waxen looks changed and their red cheeks restored, if only their parents had realised what wonderful medicinal value the despised nettle has to offer. No other plant can equal the nettle as a remedy for anaemia, rickets, scrofula, respiratory diseases and, especially, lymphatic problems.” [3]

While this ebullient rendition of the virtue of nettle by Alfred Vogel was obviously written many years ago, since rickets and scrofula are not as prevalent as such, the substance of this plant is still invaluable – perhaps more so. It may be that where you live it is not growing or there is no space, but do journey somewhere it is growing, especially now in the spring, and harvest a handful for culinary or medicinal purpose. As soon as the plant wilts it looses its sting (mostly).

Vogel also notes that its rich mineral content – silica, calcium, phosphorous, iron and others, but also vitamin D which is only available in a small number of plants. It is accepted that vitamin D is synthesised in the human body from sunlight.  Sunlight is especially important for rickets, scrofula (tuberculosis (TB) of the lymphatic), and lung TB, as the old Naturopathic treatments attest.

He tells the story of a man whose wife was dying of lung TB. After hearing him speak of nettles in a lecture, the man went home and gave his wife fresh nettles every day, either chopped in her soup or as raw juice. To everyone’s astonishment, including the doctors, the man’s wife regained her health. The hunt for nettles may be difficult or easy; they are usually here from spring (late March this year) up until November or December, if I recall. A tablespoon per day for an adult and half to one teaspoon for a child has sufficient medicinal properties to take effect, says Vogel.

Young nettles can be chopped finely as garnish or in salad, or the juice can be mixed in soup. You will save on the purchase of imported parsley, and also be rewarded with vitality. Steamed it tastes like spinach. Young stinging nettles boiled in milk has been found to be useful for constipation. After removing the nettles drink the milk every morning. Also useful for migraines with accompanying bilious vomiting.

The vitamin and mineral food
The reason Vogel speaks so highly of nettle is its mineral content – especially calcium and iron and is used for anaemia and calcium disorders. Nettle is a key ingredient in Vogel’s calcium preparation Urticalcin.

From his vast experience as a Nature doctor, he knew the many signs of calcium insufficiency in the human organism. In children, calcium deficiency makes them susceptible to catarrh, with every cold draught posing a threat. In adults too, the demand for calcium is great in this age of nervousness and tension. [4]

Here is a valuable recipe for children’s growing demands, especially if indicated by frequent colds and perhaps a seeming lack of vitality and learning ability. Pick young fresh nettles, and take some eggs shells – if you live by the sea use oyster shells – crush shells and nettles together, and leave to dry in the air. A light green powder will result, once pulverised. The child should take half a teaspoon of this two or three times a day. After a few months the teeth will improve and be noticeably stronger, colds and catarrh formation diminish. [5]

On the subject of eggshells, Mrs Thun mentioned that one should never throw away the water in which an egg is boiled – cook with it or give it to houseplants (after it has cooled, obviously). The water has all the mineral qualities of eggshells. [6] It is better than the egg. Think of it as a homoeopathic-like (attenuated) substance. Also, dry the eggshells, grind them, and add a teaspoonful to a kilogramme of bread flour.

Nettle in the form of an infusion (as one would make tea) provides an excellent hair tonic, especially in the case of skin eruptions on the scalp.

Homoeopathy makes use of Urtica Urens known as the Lesser Nettle. The fresh plant extract – the mother tincture – is used for agalactia (diminished secretion or absence of milk in mothers) and for arthritic ailments, inflamed joints of a gouty nature, diminished urine with increased sedimentation and bladder irritation. Dr Subrata Banerjea names Urtica urens as a leading anti-sycotic remedy. This makes the nettle truly a remedy for our age.

© Cornelis van Dalen 2007

1. Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, as quoted in Mrs Grieves’ A Modern Herbal, p. 579.
2. Mrs M Grieves, A Modern Herbal, Tiger Books International, U.K., 1998. p. 576.
3. Alfred Vogel, The Nature Doctor, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, U.K. 2003 edition, p. 370.
4. Pleased read: The Spirit of Calcium, I & II, New Physis Newsletter, #9 and #10
5. Vogel, p. 63.
6. Maria and Matthias Thun, Sowing and Planting Calendar, Floris Books, U.K. 2003. p. 9.

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