Nettle, the plant to be taken the right way
Nettle is preceded by its reputation as a weed and stinging plant, but knowing it better, it turns out that it hides a vast amount of benefits in many different fields, from medicine to cooking to clothing.
Nettle: botanical anatomy
The common nettle, Urtica dioica L., is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the botanical family of Urticaceae.
Its oblong oval leaves with a heart-shaped base can be recognized by the toothed edges and by the effect that its stinging hairs cause in contact with our skin. Who hasn’t experienced burning and itching at least once in their life, probably at an early age, due to a chance encounter with this plant?
For those who have been wondering since then, the reason is due to the presence of toxins such as histamine, acetylcholine and acetic acid which are found in tiny pockets inside the very thin hollow needles that release their contents when rubbing the leaves.
Like all dioecious plants, the nettle can bear only female flowers or only male flowers. These are small, inconspicuous greenish spikelets that appear from June to October. Their fruit is an achene that contains only one brownish yellow seed, rounded at the top and pointed at the bottom. Pollination occurs mainly thanks to the action of the wind, so it is easy for small groups of male plants to grow not far from small groups of female plants.Ah, and if you still get stung with this plant there is an ancient folk remedy that can help: immediately rub some peppermint leaves or use a few drops of lavender essence which, with their anesthetizing properties, will give immediate relief.
Nettle: origin and habitat
The nettle arises spontaneously and is widespread all over the world. The only places where it has not been identified are the Arctic, India and South Africa. Its origins date back to the colder regions of Europe and Asia, where it grows up to about 2500 m above sea level.
It prefers humid and nitrogen-rich places, preferably shady and near waterways. It is found mainly along the roadsides, near abandoned houses and in uncultivated land, but also in wooded clearings.
Nettle: how to use it
Nothing is thrown away from the nettle: from all its components (leaves, roots and stem) you can obtain useful substances that have medicinal powers. The properties of this plant that have been handed down since ancient times are many and it would take much more than an article to tell them, here we will limit ourselves to listing all the benefits attributed to the nettle that have been scientifically confirmed: remineralizing, diuretic, antirheumatic, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-ulcer, astringent and analgesic.
That’s why we chose nettle as an ingredient in our Remedia n.7 – Detox, our youngest recipe – as of now! – which has soothing, relaxing, and purifying effects. A herbal tea that we recommend not only in those moments when you feel the need to start a new period focused on well-being, but also every day in the morning for an awakening full of energy and as an accompaniment to meals.
According to folk tradition, nettle was also used to make a decoction against hair loss and to counteract the effects of arthrosis. In the kitchen, however, it is still used today (always after blanching to eliminate the stinging effect) for omelets, soups, risottos, filling for ravioli or pasta and fermented drinks.
Nettle: fun facts
- In Scandinavian countries, nettles were the symbol of the god of thunder and lightning. To prevent being struck by lightning, in the Middle Ages, it was customary to throw a bunch of it on the roof hoping that it could convince the lightning to deflect towards the ground.
- In Italian, the nettle has inspired some negative phrases such as “gettare alle ortiche” when you throw away something you no longer intend to use or “qui ci crescono solo le ortiche” (only nettles grow here) to indicate a desolate place. It is funny to think that this plant in our country is also known as “burning grass” or “mother-in-law’s revenge” because it would have hit secret boyfriends who had to sneak into the grass to avoid being seen.
- Nettle plants have been used to obtain textile fibers since prehistoric times, well before wool or cotton. In addition, thanks to the presence of chlorophyll, the nettle is also perfect for coloring fabrics in a completely natural way.
- Gayle Engels & Josef Brinkmann, Stinging Nettle. American Botanical Council https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/110/table-of-contents/hg110-herbpro-stingingnettle/
- Andrea Papini & Valentina Baronti, L’arte di mangiare selvatico. L’uso delle erbe spontanee nella tradizione popolare. Sarnus, 2022
- Dorota Kregiel, Ewelina Pawlikowska & Hubert Antolak, Ordinary plants with extraordinary properties. Molecules, 2018