Thursday, February 28, 2008

Herbal Allies; Nettle

Herbal Allies; Nettles

I love nettles, Urtica dioica and other nettles. Although one would believe her to be an unfriendly plant, reaching out to sting anyone who walks too close and brushes up against her foliage, she is actually quite helpful and beneficial. There’s even a silver lining to that sting.

My first adventures with nettle came when I purchased a book; “Healing Wise” by Susun Weed some years ago. Reading it, I found myself drawn to nettles and oats, and promptly purchased quantities of each and ventured into the new (to me) world of herbal infusions. I can’t say my first experience was positive. I guess the closest I can come to describing that taste was “pond water”. But I persevered and very soon found myself loving the fresh green taste of the dark emerald liquid. My body liked it too; my energy improved, my skin cleared, my mild allergy symptoms improved, and my kidneys, prone to gravel, formed fewer stones. I guess I can say that nettles marked the beginning of my journey into the green things. People starting out with the infusion would do well to stick with only a cup or so a day, until their body gets used to it, as more than a few have reported headaches when they drink more than that. After one has grown accustomed to the herb, as much as a quart a day can be consumed without headaches.

I’ve not found Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) growing on my property, but her cousin, Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) grows profusely along the creek that runs by my house. She stings too, and tastes almost as good, so I use her. On a trip to my brother’s in Hot Springs I found the path along his creek literally covered with Wood nettle. This nettle grows very tall, and a walk along that path in shorts is a painful adventure at best. Fortunately the area is also covered with Jewelweed, so I can soothe my stings immediately. I’ve harvested them there, eaten them steamed, and made tincture from the leaf and root.

But my most profound experience has come from using stinging nettle seeds. I made friends with nettle seeds several years ago when one of my dogs developed renal cancer, and subsequently renal failure. While poking around for something to help him I found David Winston uses them for renal failure, and I found an article about how effective the seed tincture is here;

Armed with that bit of information I purchased a supply of the dried seed from Jean’s Greens and made myself a standard tincture using 100 proof vodka. I’m a fan and follower of Matt Wood’s “drop dose” technique so I started dosing Sonny with three drops a day. The results were pretty much immediate, and miraculous. Over a period of two months or so, his renal values came right back into normal limits, and I was able to put him back on his regular diet instead of the phosphorus-restricting one I’d had him on. Until the day of his death almost three years later his kidney values remained normal.

My Veterinarian soon began to use this wondrous stuff on her other patients, and more often than not, improvement, and sometimes reversal of disease was seen. Since then I’ve heard of and read many similar accounts.

More recently I’ve been led to using nettle seed as an adaptogen. In an ongoing discussion on the Herbwifery forum Kiva Rose mentioned how the seeds gave her increased energy, using just a tiny pinch of the dried ones daily. I tried it, and sure enough, I had scads more energy. Now we’re talking focused energy here, the kind that won’t let me sit down for very long, the kind that makes me get up and look for projects to do, and to complete them. I turned several friends on to them, and most report an increase in energy almost immediately. It makes sense, as this is an herb known to support the adrenals, and many of us suffer from “adrenal burnout” due to daily stressors, environment, poor diet, and health problems.

I’ve used the root tincture of stinging nettle in a formula for BPH and prostatitis in male dogs, and I understand it is equally effective with the males of my species. It combines well with saw palmetto and licorice root for this purpose, and for dogs I add some Chaste tree berry to help calm those urges that contribute to the condition.

And now for that silver lining in the sting I mentioned earlier. Urtication is a time proven technique that can lessen the severity of arthritic pain and inflammation in joints. The brave (or the masochistic) will take a bunch of the tops of stinging nettle and flog the offending joint, to produce the characteristic sting from the formic acid. The subsequent irritation brings additional blood to the area and helps reduce the inflammation in the joint. I haven’t personally tried this approach, so I can’t add my own experiences to it.

So the next time you get stung by a nettle, turn and thank her, and consider that she might just be trying to tell you something.


Shamana Flora said...

I have to say that no matter HOW little of nettles I consume I STILL get a headache. Isn't about quantity or being used to it for me. I think it is just a consitutional incompatability.
We dont get along all that well inside my body.

She's a lovely ally though!

Tammy said...

Love your writing, Granny Sam! I have a question. Since I haven't yet found nettles nearby, I always buy it dried for infusions. The last batch I purchased makes a deep greenish *brown* infusion. It's always been deep emerald to very dark green before. Have you seen brown infusion before? I don't like this batch as well either. I'm wondering if it has something to do with when it was harvested? Any ideas?

Granny Sam said...

Hi Tammy,

I've had that happen before too. I think it's because they were a tad old. The infusions were fine when I first got the herb from Mountain Rose (where I usually buy) but I got out of the nettle drinking mode for a few months and they just sat around. Then when I went back to infusions again they were more brownish, and the taste, while not *bad* was a bit off, enough to make me not like it. So I used the rest for compost and bought fresh. Sometimes it can be minerals in the water, but if you've been using the same water the whole time that would rule out water.

If you've recently gotten them why don't you contact customer service where you bought them and just tell them you're not altogether happy with the quality. Most companies are more than happy to work with customers and will refund or replace. Worth a try.

Thanks for your kind comments about my blog. It's my first attempt at blogging.



tammy said...

Hey, I posted the comment and then forgot to check back for a response! Thanks for this. That makes perfect sense.

Anonymous said...

Do you know if Wood Nettle seeds are similarly useful?

Mitch said...

Hi, my dog is in a similar situation. How many pounds was your dog when you treated it with nettle seed?