Friday, 24 July 2015

The prickly nature of stinging nettles

(Originally published 14 September 2014 here )

I love me some nettles. You know I do.

But there are things the books don't tell you about nettles, and then there are other things some books tell you about nettles that are downright incorrect bordering on negligent.

Let's start with the latter. Every time I see a new herb book in a store or an herby website, I turn to the nettle pages to see what they say about when to pick nettles. If they say "pick nettles as they come into bloom" I walk (or click) away. Do NOT pick nettles as they are coming into bloom. They're at their peak of prickliness then, to the point where it just can't be cooked or steeped away. You won't get a mouthful of prickles but chances are good you'll get a tummy and/or kidneys full of glass - or so it will feel. It's not actually the prickles per say, but the chemicals within. It's not good. Don't do it.

How did this error come about? How is it that so many books repeat it? I don't know. And it ticks me off.

In spring, anytime up to when nettles are about knee high, pick just the top 2, maybe three sets of leaves. The tender ones. In autumn, right about now, those that have bloomed and gone to seed will start branching out and there again, pick the tender tops. Eat them now, dry them for infusions, infuse them in apple cider vinegar for dressings or even freeze them in ice cube trays like you would basil. It's all good.

If you're making vinegars for hair rinses or to pour in the bath, you can pick a little further down, getting some of the tougher parts and stems.

Next up, the myth that makes me laugh out loud and then holler at the screen. I have never seen this one in books but I've seen it on plenty o' websites. "If you want to try your nettles in salad, soaking them first will eliminate the sting" HAHAHAHA -  teeeheeehee - NO IT WON'T!!!

If anything, the stings get worse if soaked. Oh Lord where do these people come up with this?

Clearly, they have never met a nettle. And that's just downright irresponsible, don't you think? Writing authoritative sounding articles when you haven't a clue? Oy.

You could try blanching them in boiling water. But to really be sure, cook your nettles thoroughly. Slightly underdone nettles may not sting, but they have a fuzzy mouth feel that some may like, I do not, and I can't see it working in salad.

Now, Susun Weed will tell you (and it's true) that nettles are one of the best allies for women on the verge of, in the midst of, or any time after the Change. They keep our bones strong, they really do calm the adrenals and in so doing help us sleep (almost) through the night. All those good things are true.

What she doesn't tell you, but many a woman who's spent some years with nettle just might, is that they can make our personalities ... just a teeny bit ... prickly. Oh yeah. They sure can. Now don't let me put you off because they are absolutely worth it. But if you're already having crying jags for seemingly no reason (although there is always a reason, it just isn't obvious) then nettles might be better balanced with some nice mellow oat straw. Go easy at first til you know, ok?

Nettles will make you pee. And that's a wonderful thing when you're hanging onto water like a camel. They even replace all the nutrients that drug based diuretics will deplete, so they're safe. But at first, stay home. After a while, the urgency and frequency passes, and you just pee better so you pee less often. In fact, nettles are excellent for weak bladdered women after a while. They seem to help with urgency over the long term but not, oh so not, the short term.

Nettles will make you poop. Not, as I've seen suggested, the way a laxative will, but I suspect they feed our good bacteria, so yes, you will rejoice if that's an issue for you. Just sayin'.

With all that activity in the bathroom, nettles might make you feel a little dried out on the inside. If that's the case, it's nice to add a little mallow leaf to your infusions, or maybe a pinch of salt to help you hang on to some of your fluids. This isn't much of an issue, usually, but for the older women who are prone to a dry mouth it can be. So try not to use too much sage at the same time, as it's drying too. If your vagina starts to feel dry, it might be the nettles and in that case, back off them a while. Slippery elm mixed with water will put out the fire down there.

All of this being said, nettles are da bomb. Your hair will look amazing, your nails will grow, you'll have more energy. They just promote a certain glow that, heaven knows, women at a certain stage of life could use some help with. Nettles are wonderful for anyone convalescing from chemo or radiation. They're amazingly helpful for tired nursing mothers (and their babes). They've been known to save kidneys on the brink of breaking down. Nettles are worth their weight in gold.

And one day I'll tell you about how to use the roots for your man (woah Daddy!) and the seeds for a multitude of uses, too.

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