Herb Queen of the Spring: Stinging Nettle

| 3/21/2017 2:33:00 PM

Here in the Appalachian Mountains, spring creeps across the landscape. Despite a vicious cold spell that swept across our curvy hills, wild edibles are emerging in our valleys, meadows, and forests. One of the most nutritious and energy-rich of these wild edibles is a dark-green weed with a ferocious bite. Stinging nettle is her name, and though she bites with shockingly strong needles, her leaves are well worth harvesting, for they are extremely nutritious and fortifying for the body.

As the renowned herbalist Susun Weed writes in her herbal e-zine, “Nettle is amazingly rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially the critical trace minerals: anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, diabetes-chasing chromium, and bone-building boron. A quart of nettle infusion contains more than 1000 milligrams of calcium, 15000 IU of vitamin A, 760 milligrams of vitamin K, 10% protein, and lavish amounts of most B vitamins.”

Nettles are also high in vitamin C and iron, making them an excellent supplement for pregnancy, bone and blood health. Here at Wild Abundance, a permaculture and primitive skills school just north of Asheville, North Carolina, we harvest nettle in these early months of spring, while the plant is still young, and relish the taste of this health-giving herb. Here in Appalachia, we also gather a native woodland nettle (Laportea Canadensis) as well as the common stinging nettle (Urticaceae), which grows across North America, Europe, through Asia and in northern regions of Africa.


The nettles’ sting is thought to increase circulation and help relieve the pain of arthritis. When harvesting in the early spring months, when the plant is still young, Natalie Bogwalker, the founder of Wild Abundance and the Firefly Gathering, considers the sting to be beneficial, healing the pains in her hard-working hands. “I'm careful to only touch the nettle with the insides of my hands, as it doesn't seem to sting that part,” says Natalie. “My inner wrists and forearms seem to be pretty sensitive, but if I do get stung I think of it as good medicine for my over-used arms. Later in the season, [when the plant's sting is strongest] I tend to always where gloves, long pants, and closed shoes.” Gloves and proper attire are recommended for the novice nettle collector!

Below you’ll find two recipes for stinging nettle, plus Wild Abundance’s favorite preservation technique (courtesy of Natalie Bogwalker). Harvest while you can, and enjoy the many benefits of this nourishing wild food!

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