"Katie. What have you been eating," she said. This could have gone one of two ways. She was either very pleased or very displeased.
"What do you mean?" I said, stalling.
"I mean there is four times as much hair on the top of your head as there is on the bottom. What have you been doing differently? AND HOW CAN I GET IN ON THAT?"
The answer I gave her, friends, is the inspiration for our blog post today. The magic ingredient causing my hair to grow like a weed (literally), my nails to strengthen, and my skin to even out was my favorite plant ally: Nettles. Yes, the same nettles that stings when you touch it, that most of us are raised to avoid at all costs while out hiking. Urtica dioica is an incredible nourisher, and I'd recommend it to any and everybody. Which is why I'm writing about it today.
First, let's dig into some of the phytochemistry of nettle, which helps to explain what makes this superplant so great. Nettles has several constituents that should be familiar to you, whether or not you study plant medicine: Vitamin C, dietary fiber, protein. Nettles is food! It works well in an overnight hot infusion, as we learned from Susun Weed in an earlier post, but it's also a mega-nutritious leafy green. You can lightly steam fresh nettles and eat them in salad, or leave them out to dry for just a day, and eat them raw. The density of fiber, protein, iron and vitamins means they will fill you up faster and keep you full longer. When I drank nettle infusion for two weeks, I found my salt and sugar cravings throughout the day were curbed immensely. My blood sugar stayed stable, and I didn't need to graze between meals. Not to mention the aforementioned effect of being so well-nourished that I grew four times as much hair on my head and my nails strengthened and grew much more quickly. Its high levels of clorophyll, which is the constituent that makes plants green, are helpful for any skin issues, particularly eczema. I found I had fewer breakouts while I was drinking it.
Nettles also contains quercetin, histamine, and serotonin, which make it excellent for fighting allergies. It soothes your body's histamine response, so you won't be as sensitive to invaders like pollen and mold.
Susun Weed, who loves nettles maybe even more than I do, lists the following herbal actions in her book Healing Wise: nutritive tonic, anti-anemic, diuretic, astringent, antiseptic, galactagogue, expectorant, depurative, anti-diabetic. Some of those are self-explanatory: it regulates blood sugar, so helps stabilize diabetes, and is iron-packed, so helps prevent anemia. It's highly nutritious, and acts as a tonic on the whole body. In traditional medicine modalities, nettles is considered hot and dry energetically, so it is great for cold and/or damp conditions like phlegm, lethargy, stagnation, and leaks in the body. (UTIs, leaky gut syndrome, excess mucous production, etc). Its astringent properties help strengthen and tonify kidneys, lungs, intestines and arteries, and expectorant means it will help you expel excess mucous in productive coughs. This same property helps stops bleeding, from a heavy menstrual flow to a dangerous internal hemorrhage. Diuretic means it helps clear the bladder. If you, like me, have some kidney trouble, nettles is your savior. It will help flush toxins in the urine, and, beloved to all sufferers of UTIs, helps empty the bladder fully when you go, which decreases that murderous burning sensation and constant feeling of needing to use the bathroom. Galactagogue means nettles helps increase milk flow for those breastfeeding children, and antiseptic means nettles moves like a scrub brush through the body, eliminating infectious bacteria. And finally, depurative means nettles removes impurities. This can be superficial, as it clears skin wonderfully, or deep, helping the body bring itself into balance and stasis by removing deep-seated toxins or stations of bad health. And finally, it's excellent for hair loss! Boil 3oz fresh leaves in 2c water and 2c vinegar for 3 minutes, then use 1/2c at a time each time you shower as a leave-in rinse.
So, you can see how long that paragraph was. Nettles has a lot going for it. And one of the best things about it? You can take it many, many ways! As Susun mentioned, it's the perfect plant to infuse overnight. She covers 1oz of dried nettles in one quart of boiling water overnight, and strains and drinks it over the course of the next day. (If you start with 1/3 or 1/2c of plant material in one quart of water, nobody is judging you. The taste of nettles might take some getting used to. I recommend adding ice when you drink it!) You can also eat the fresh leaves, raw or steamed lightly, or as a tincture obtained from an herbalist. (Tinctures are made by soaking plants in alcohol for a month or more, then straining.)
My last recommendation before you run out and buy a pound of fresh nettles, or dive into the woods to harvest your own: Keep a plant diet journal! Nettles is such a strong nourisher, I think it's a perfect introductory herb for learning how plant medicine works in your body. Every night before bed, write down how your body felt that day. Diet, sleep the night before, mood, libido, digestion, skin, dreams... write it all down, along with how much nettle you had, and in what form. I bet the patterns that emerge will surprise you in the best possible way.
Healing Wise by Susun Weed
Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman
The Herb Book by John Lust
*Legalese: In our society, only MDs get to say they are "treating" disease. As such, this blog post has not been analyzed by the FDA, and the advice within has not been scientifically proven to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Please see a health practitioner for medical treatment.