Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stinging Nettle, Part 2

Yarn, potherb, butterflies, tea, and fodder: 
what’s not to like?

(Click here for the earlier post about Nettle). Besides its reputation as a weed, nettle is considered to be a herb. So, what is a herb? According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, a herb is "a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities." In the case of nettle, we can rule out aromatic since it isn’t very scented. This plant actually has more in store for us than the remaining two qualities of medicinal and savory would indicate. Although it is a sting-eee weed, nettle has some interesting benefits.

Essential for a butterfly garden
If you have a garden area for harboring butterflies, consider nettle if it is not there already. According to Wikipedia, there are between 24 and 39 different varieties of nettle, and not all of them sting. They are food for caterpillars- your future Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma, and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies eat it. 

Good for knitting
The stalk of the plant is fibrous. Nettle fiber is processed in a way similar to flax; a labor-intensive process that involves rotting away the unusable parts, and then carding and spinning the resulting fiber. Nettle yarn is similar to linen; both are stringlike and the knitted fabric has a soft luster. Not an easy thing for d.i.y.; click here for an artist’s blog post showing her experiment with making nettle yarn.
A drawstring bag knitted of nettle yarn

A fresh green to eat in late spring
In late spring, before the garden gets going, nettle leaves are available for a potherb. So, what’s a potherb? According to a dictionary app for iPad, a potherb is "any herb prepared as food by cooking in a pot." Only the young leaves of nettle should be eaten. The book, A Modern Herbal*, says to pick the leaves when the plant is no more than 6 to 8 inches tall. Instructions in the same book say to wash the nettle, then to place it into a saucepan without adding any extra water, and to cook it with the lid on for twenty minutes. After cooking, drain, and chop it. Then eat it as is, or sauté in butter with salt and pepper to taste. Cooked nettle can be added to any dish that calls for greens or spinach. Use it in place of chard in the recipe, Swiss Chard Pie.

You can make beer out of it
The Modern Herbal gives a recipe for making nettle beer. I also googled “nettle beer” and found a number of sites with recipes. Click here for one of them.

Squelch your allergies
Nettle is said to help suppress seasonal allergies because it contains antihistamines which help relieve nasal congestion and sneezing. Nettle can be used either dried or green as tea for allergy relief. According to The Modern Herbal (a very useful book!), steep two to three tablespoons-worth of leaves in a cup of hot water for ten minutes. 

Add it to the medicine cabinet
Research turned up a number of medicinal uses for the herb. These include using the juice of nettle for stopping nosebleeds and certain types of internal bleeding. A tea of nettle is good for purifying the blood, and is also said to be good for the kidneys. Another old timey prescription consists of flogging oneself with fresh nettle in order to ease rheumatism or to warm oneself in cold weather. Do your own research before trying any of these, and let it be known that this blog is not a recommendation for any particular use of nettle. 

Benefits and hazards for livestock
Nettle is said to be useful for supplementing livestock feed- apparently containing too much protein to be used by itself. Added to feed, cows give more milk, hens lay more eggs, and the health of a sickly horse improves. This isn’t, however, something to grow in a pasture. Grazing animals prefer to avoid it, and it must be cut and dried for them to eat it. Here is a source telling how a horse develops a painful skin rash from rolling in nettle.

Great for compost
This plant makes a good garden helper and compost builder. Nettle tends to prefer good soil. Look for vigorous growth, strong stems and healthy green leaves. Wimpy growth is telling you the soil needs a boost. As nettle grows, the plants absorb nutrients from the soil. Cut the plants back and toss them onto the compost pile to reclaim these valuable nutrients.

That’s eight great reasons to nurture at least a small patch of nettle near to the garden or pasture. Our little patch recently flowered. On one of the hottest days of this summer I clothed myself from head to toe. And then chopped the patch to the ground. Now, there are little sprigs of leaves coming in, and I’m using them for tea. -jmm
*A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve, originally published in 1931, and republished by Dover Books in 1971.

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