Stinging nettle or the common nettle, Urtica dioica, is a perennial flowering plant. It is actually a native to the colder regions of United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and northern Africa.
However, it is now found worldwide. This plant usually grows up to around two to four feet in height and it blooms from the months of June to September. It has heart-shaped leaves and produces very beautiful yellow or pink flowers.
It grows best in soil which is rich in nitrogen. The nettles are very easy to identify. They have dark green leaves arranged in the opposite pattern and are a few inches long.
They have a rough and papery texture, and very coarse teeth. The tip of the leaf is pointed while the base is heart-shaped.
During the springtime, nettle shoots start to grow close to the ground and have only a few rows of leaves. In the summer, the nettle plant goes on to grow rapidly and reaches the height of around 2 meters (6.5 feet). During the fall, the plant dies back again. However, it re-emerges at the same place in the spring that follows. So, once you find a patch of the nettle plant, you can go on harvesting it year after year at the same place.
For making stinging nettle leaf tea, you can use either the fresh or the dried leaves. Each kind has its own unique flavour.
- For drying the leaves, just keep them in a paper bag and store it in a well-ventilated room until they dry up, but are still green. The dry leaves usually do not sting, but you should be careful while handling them as they can still cause splinters or some minor irritations.
- After this, what you need to do is simply sift through the leaves and remove any stowaway bugs that might have got in.
- Now, wash the leaves in a sieve under running water and rub off any dust or other contaminants and impurities. Make sure you wear gloves while doing this.
- After you are done washing the leaves, put the leaves in boiling water for about 10–15 minutes, or until when the water begins to turn light green.
- One loose cup (240 mL) of nettle leaves is enough for preparing two glasses of tea. You can make it stronger or weaker as per your requirement by adjusting the quantity of the leaves and water.
- Also, if you are bothered about your kettle getting mucky, you can simply pour the boiling water over the leaves and then let it steep. The leaves will not sting you now.
To make the tea easier to drink, strain the tea through a mesh sieve. Adding lemon juice or any other acidic substance will change the color of the nettle tea to pink.
If the stems are also boiled, there will be even more visible change in color as they contain more amounts of the color-changing chemicals.
In folk medicine traditions, this alteration is used for different health benefits. The chemicals which are responsible for this are anthocyanin and other related anthocyanin glucosides.
You can also eat the cooked leaves with a little of melted butter, or you can add it to soups and stews. If you are eating the leaves, first taste a small bit to ensure that it doesn’t sting anymore.