Forget the sting – nettles are a superhero herb

by Gazette Reporter

By Feebee Foran

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but you’d find it hard to find someone who beholds the humble stinging nettle as a thing of beauty. 

However, when I look at a cluster of stinging nettles, I automatically go into planning mode.  The medicinal uses and possibilities for delicious and healthy recipes are endless when it comes to stinging nettles.

I want you to push aside those childhood memories of stings on your legs and that tingly that lasts hours after a busy day in the garden.

The truth about stinging nettles is that they are packed from root to tip with nutrients, being particularly rich in calcium and folic cid.  A gentle diuretic, its also fantastic for your circulatory system and is a great anti-inflamatory.

Photo – Aishling Conway

Like most people over the age of 40, I know that feeling of going from a sitting to a standing position, only to find myself uttering “oof” as I stand.  However, since I have started introducing nettles into my life, I find that quick movements like standing, are so much easier.  I put this down to my daily nettle tea, which unlike shop bought herbal tea bags, is completely free, with compliments of my local area in Firhouse.  A quick forage of stinging nettles every three or four days means I always have a fresh batch in the fridge.

Nettles are also particularly handy in renewing connective tissue, strengthening hair, reducing fatigue, but my favourite has to be its superpowers against hayfever.  By drinking 2-3 cups of each day, you can greatly reduce the effects of pollen season, allowing you to enjoy the outdoors without itchy eyes and a runny nose.

Photo – Aishling Conway

I could write all day about this superhero herb, but by trying it yourself, you will soon see that nettles are not the scary plant to avoid in the garden, but deserve your appreciation and should be encouraged to grow in your garden.

My love of nettles has grown so much that I recently challenged myself to learn to pick them without gloves.

So, your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to follow my lead try pick a stinging nettle, without getting stung.

The tiny hairs on the nettle are the part of the plant that will sting you. On the stem, they grow in a downward motion, much like our own hair. If you pick them the same way you pick a flower – in an upwards swoosh, you are disrupting these little hairs and in turn, will get stung.

Read more in this weeks Dublin Gazette out in stores now

When picking nettles, aim to pick the top six inches and go with your index finger and thumb approaching from above. This way, you are going to touch the tiny stingy hairs, but keeping them pointing downwards.

Once your fingers are on the nettles, chances are, you will imagine you are getting stung – but move slowly and trust that if the hairs are in a downward position, you will be fine.

Now, break the stem, as opposed to pulling upwards (remember it’s the upward motion that moves the tiny hairs upwards – causing the sting).

Next step – be seriously proud of yourself at how well you did! And try it again. 

Or…do a pain-dance and go look for a dock leaf! (rosemary, mint and sage make for even more potent nettle sting relievers)

Let me know how you get on with your nettle challenge on Instagram @forager.ie

Nettle Tea

Be sure to pick plants that are protected from passing pollution and are not low enough to the ground for dogs or other wildlife to pee on.

  • When you get home, wash the leaves (keep your gloves on) and shake off the excess water. 
  • Using a scissors, roughly chop the leaves and stems and place into a Pyrex jug. 
  • Fill the jug with boiling water, covering the nettles and with a spoon, prodding them down into the hot water.  
  • Cover the jug with a saucer and leave overnight.
  • In the morning, strain the “tea” off the nettles, composting the leaves and stems.  Store in the fridge. 
  • This tea will last about 3 days.  Drink hot or cold, enjoying 2-3 cups per day for best effects.

Rhubarb bumper harvest

Currently I am harvesting a glut of Rhubarb from my plot at Bohernabreena allotments.  Contrary to popular belief, rhubarb is not a fruit but a vegetable and in my opinion is one of the best behaved veggies in my plot.  It takes very little of my time and simply knows what to do.

I always feel that the first harvests of my rhubarb plants are the sweetest, so deciding what delicious recipe to use them in is a struggle.  Of course, in my house, rhubarb infused gin always wins out, but one of my favourite rhubarb recipes is a fridge jam that in my opinion, is good enough to eat straight from the jar.

This jam is perfect for adding to yogurt, served in a bowl with a dollop of custard, on toast….or as I previously mentioned (and highly recommend), eating straight from the jar with a spoon!

Ingredients

  • 500g Rhubarb – cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 120g Granulated sugar
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Method

    In a bowl, combine the chopped rhubarb and sugar, mix well, so that the rhubarb is covered in the sugar. 
  • Leave for at least an hour (or even overnight) to draw the juice out of the rhubarb.
  • Once the sugar has fully dissolved, put into a pot and bring to the boil for about 10 minutes before reducing to a low heat. 
  • Add the juice of half a lemon, tasting and adding more lemon to suit your personal taste.
  • Allow to reduce on the hob.
  • Leave to cool before pouring in to sterilized jars.
  • Grab a spoon and tuck in!
  • Store in the Fridge.

Feebee Foran is a nature enthusiast, allotmenter, milliner and homebrewer. Owner of Forager.ie, Feebee creates skincare and healing products using all natural, locally foraged herbs and plants.

Follow her nature adventures on Instagram @forager.ie

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