Aspiring herbalists, home hair care devotees, and the culinarily adventurous will all want to have a few recipes that use Urtica dioica in their repertoire. More commonly known as stinging nettle, this plant has been used in medicine, clothing, hair tonics, and dinners for millennia. The “sting” of the stinging nettle is caused by the tiny hairs that cover the leaves and cause pain, redness, and irritation upon contact, a built-in defense mechanism that saves this super nutritious green from being totally devoured by hungry wildlife. Once soaked, boiled, or steamed, however, the leaves lose their antagonistic qualities and are ready to be used for any number of beneficial applications.
It’s hard to believe that a plant that causes pain when touched could have any healthful purpose, but folk healers throughout the ages have used the leaves (in their natural stinging state) to actually relieve discomfort. While the leaves do sting upon contact, they also ease other chronic and more intense pain. You don’t have to sting yourself, however, to reap the health benefits of Urtica dioica; a tea made from the leaves has been said to help urinary diseases, lower blood sugar and glycemic levels in diabetics, improve nail health, ease gout, and work as a mild laxative. To make the tea, simply put some stinging nettle leaves in a pot and just cover with water, then boil until the water turns green. Experiment with the depth of color and your personal preference; the longer you boil the leaves, the more bitter the tea will be. Add sugar to taste or, for a fun science experiment, add lemon and watch the pH of the tea turn the water from green to pink!
Hair treatments made from Urtica dioica leaves can help thicken your locks, make hair shinier, and fight dandruff. For thicker hair, boil 60 grams (about 2/3 cup) of finely crushed nettle leaves, then cover for 10 minutes. Once cool, rinse clean hair with the mixture. To fight flakes, let six or seven leaves sit in 2 cups of alcohol for 10 days, then massage into scalp and rinse.
The health benefits don’t stop at tea and tinctures; incorporating vitamin and mineral-packed Uritca dioica into your meals will keep your body well-fueled and ready to fight off any germ. An easy way to add stinging nettles at dinnertime is to make pesto. Blanch 6 cups of fresh leaves in boiling water for 60 seconds, then drain and chop. Put them in a food processor with 1/3 cup pine nuts, 1/2 cup grated parmesan, and 2 chopped garlic cloves, then add salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste. Blend, then pour in 1/3 cup olive oil and continue to blend until smooth. Toss with your favorite pasta!
Urtica dioica won’t sting you after it’s been soaked or boiled, but when handling fresh leaves, be sure to wear gloves. Smaller plants, those that are between one and three feet, are more tender than larger ones. The youngest, topmost leaves of the plant are the least bitter, making them the best choices for making tea. Very young leaves don’t sting and can be used in salads as well.