Appreciation for nettle leaf fans is on the rise. In our fast-paced, answer-for-everything world, many are turning back to folk wisdom when it comes to simple remedies for common problems. Up until the middle of the Twentieth Century, most families in the United States had their favorite concoctions, such as nettle leaf, for treating minor ailments. Then came the big pharmacies with over-the-counter instant fix-it. Nettle leaf was left to grow unnoticed like the weed it is.
Today interest in Grandma’s remedies is enjoying a renaissance and nettle leaf no longer looks like a weed to those who pursue it. John Lust in The Herb Book lists nettle leaf as having these properties: astringent, diuretic, galctagogue, hemostatic, and tonic. These are terms used by herbalists over the centuries. Each term comes with a list of specific medicinal uses. Grandma probably knew none of the names, but she did have her own list.
Grandma kept nettle leaf on hand to aid in digestive problems, to stop blood in the urine, to help with milk flow in a new mom, and to treat the scalp for hair loss. Pretty impressive list! And, these were not the only uses for nettle leaf. They were just the ones Grandma was familiar with.
Where Grandma Got Her Nettle Leaf
Nettle leaf grows pretty much world wide and is known as stinging nettle. The plant is perennial, which means once Grandma found a good stand of it, she could return to that spot every year to harvest. Nettle leaf grows on a plant that reaches three to seven feet depending on the age of the plant. Grandma knew that the best nettle leaf was found in damp areas where streams flowed or where water was abundant. Nothing has changed. Look in the damp spots. Just look for snakes as well.
Nettle Leaf: The Harvest Adventure
Stinging nettle leaves are covered with tiny needle-like structures that will penetrate your skin and inject a potion that will really get your attention. Hence, the name stinging nettle. Get into it once and you will not forget to wear long pants, long-sleeved shirt and gloves next harvest time.
So adequately clothed, go after your nettle stand with a pair of sharpened clippers and a box or boxes for toting home the bounty. If the nettle leaf stand is well developed, you may want to use loppers like the ones you use for pruning small branches on shrubbery. This leaves a bit more space between the stingers on the nettle leaf and your precious skin. Cut the nettle branches in lengths that fit your box(s). This way, when you carry the boxes to your car or truck, the nettle branches are safely tucked away.
Nettle Leaf: Got it! Now what?
Nettle leaf can be brewed into a tea, made into an infusion for baths or tonics. The fresh leaves can be cooked as a vegetable like dandelion leaves or dropped into soup.
This herb has little flavor so it combines easily with highly-flavored herbs like mint or lemon verbena for making tea. As a vegetable, nettle needs garlic, onion, or both. The lack of flavor is really an asset in that nettle combines so readily with other herbs and vegetables.
Preserving the Nettle Leaf Harvest
If you have access to quantities of nettle leaf, you may want to dry part of the harvest for winter when the nettle plant takes its annual nap. The procedure is simple. You just need a dry warm space that has as little light as possible. An attic is ideal, or a shed. Not available? Use a spare bedroom and close the drapes.
Two obvious ways of arranging the branches are: hanging in bunches or spreading out loosely on a sheet-covered table or bed. Depending on your temperatures, the leaves could be dry in 2-3 days. Check daily. As soon as the leaves are crispy dry, shred them off the stems into a clean box. The stems will still be pliable. Do this work wearing a clean pair of cotton gloves.
Spread out the dry nettle leaves on cookie sheets or something similar. Allow to air-dry for another couple of days and then store in clean glass jars with tight-fitting lids. Keep the jars in your coolest and darkest cabinet or pantry to preserve the freshness.