Jun 302009
 

For The Weeds of Summer Blogparty hosted by Darcey Blue over at Gaia’s Gifts

Prequel: An Irreverent Introduction to Weeds and Other Wild Things

 

 

Unruly and feral, weeds annoy us with their promiscuous strut and blatant disregard for convention and known boundaries. Many of them are immigrants and gypsies, with a reputation for sneaking into happy domestic scenes with troubling ease and for taking over the garden party with a sensual but insistent tangle of tendrils and roots. Some, like Sacred Datura, Stinging Nettles or Poison Ivy, burn or hurt the human hand who attempts to pull or hack them from their desired home. Others, such as the Asian Elm so common to the Southwest, suck much needed groundwater into themselves and away from the parched surroundings or, like Salt Cedar, create an environment inhospitable to all other plant. Some, such as Horehound, create a veritable monocultures as they rapidly overcome the native ecology. And some, like Dandelion, seem almost benevolent with their cheery smiles and myriad medicinal uses.

Most all of them have little use for human coddling or outside permission for their movement and growth. They will cheerfully crowd out delicate garden specimens, spreading out their roots and settling in comfortably between the petunias and tea roses and sometimes strangling the life right out of weaker, less well adapted (to a particular environs) plants. What they all have in common, is attitude.

Weeds serve as an icon to outcasts and misfits, representing the outlaw nature of all things strong, wild and hellbent on not only surviving, but proliferating. If we cannot find it in our hearts to love them we can at least step back and respect their tenacity and intelligence as inspiration in our own species’ quest to adapt and thrive. Many of our most common weeds seem to love the company of humans and follow us wherever we go, serving as food, medicine, plague, decoration, pest and sometimes all of the above.

What we call weeds tend to grow in disturbed ground where human impact is obvious, whether in vacant lots, tilled farmland or roadsides. These plants are looking a new frontier to colonize, but they’re also often active healers of hurt land. Many weeds restore much needed nutrients to ground often stripped of its topsoil or severely burned. It’s also important to remember that “invasive aliens” act not from a place of malicious intent (a trait primarily constrained to humans, I’m afraid), but are more reacting to their relatively sudden loss of context and ecology they have evolved to. In many cases of invasive species taking over, there is some initial degradation to the original environment that allows for new and different plants to move in and become dominant species. And sorry folks, that patch of dirt you dug up and call a garden? That’s the disturbed ground that a weed calls “easy pickins.’”

It would be foolhardy to attempt to place a value judgment upon these wild creatures, especially the categorical labels of the typical human who sees whatever benefits us as good and whatever hurts or detracts from our goals as bad. In the end, weeds, like everything (and everyone) else, want to live. It’s that simple. They, like us, are designed and adapted to survive, thrive and spread. Whether we or they are beneficial to the larger picture, is a whole different matter (and post).

Truth is, all plants have been around far longer than we, and even the most maddening Bindweed or voracious Japanese Honeysuckle tribes are our elders and teachers. This doesn’t mean that it’s not sometimes appropriate to relocate or pull a plant, but it’s a fine balance between the human arrogance that allows us to believe we are and should be in control and the reality that we are only one tiny piece of the living being we call planet Earth.

So here we are, a bit of writing on one of the planet’s most infamous and cursed weeds — the much maligned Stinging Nettle, often addressed in english expletives even ~I~ won’t publish in my blog.

How a Plant Makes You Like Them, or, More Redeeming Features of Stinging Nettle

 

Urtica spp. (U. dioica is probably the most common, but I work with U. gracilenta, our local Mountain Nettle)

Usually I like to go for the lesser known bioregional herbs for blogparty topics like this, but there’s such a dearth of information on this particular aspect of a very well known weed, that I wanted to use this opportunity to expand upon my previous writing and clarify about the harvesting and preparation process.

Whenever I say Nettle to anyone remotely interested in herbs, their eyes light right up (the opposite effect it has on your average rancher or landowner). Thanks in part to Susun Weed’s writings as well as the widespread reach of the plant itself, this is one of North America’s most common and well-loved herbs. It’s so familiar in fact, that it’s hard to get past many people’s preconceptions on what part of the plant to work with and how. I usually need to say the words ‘seeds’ at least several times before the person slows down, makes a confused face and starts to stutter about ‘so and so says’ and ‘well, I’ve always…’

Not that there’s anything wrong with the leaf (or the root, for that matter), it’s a fabulous food and medicine and one of my most used remedies without a doubt. We just need to expand our vision a little to include a bigger picture of this vital native remedy. Nettle seed is almost always one of the first herbs I think of when a case of renal failure or deep adrenal depletion comes up. Yes, Nettle leaf is good for the kidneys and adrenals (as well as the rest of the endocrine system) and is certainly a nourishing medicine. However, the seed is far less cooling and drying and has a far deeper nutritive and restorative effect upon the kidneys and adrenals, making it more broadly suitable for deep-seated exhaustion or deficiency.

I have already written much about my experiences (both personal and clinical) with Nettle seeds which you can find at my website or in the blog archives as well as on the Herbwifery forums. As a quick summary though, I have seen several clients go from near renal failure to normal levels within a few months and I have also observed much improvement in mood, energy and general endocrine/nervous system health in clients with adrenal burnout.

Below are instruction based on my experience of harvesting, processing and using Nettle Seed.

When to Harvest

When NOT to Harvest

  • When you can still see little flowers on the threads.
  • When the threads are still sticking straight out.
  • When the seeds are brown.

 

HOW To Harvest

Remarkably easy, (Henriette has a post on this as well). Two methods:

  1. Just take your gloved fingers (bare handed if you prefer, but you can get stung) and either remove the whole string and place in basket or bag.
  2. Cut the whole top half or third of the Nettle off, place in basket or bag.

If your Nettles are annuals like ours, be extra careful to leave enough seeds to for the patch to reseed itself.

How to Process

  1. If you cut the whole tops off, you can bundle and hang to dry over a newspaper or in a paper bag (don’t want any runaway seeds). If you just pulled the seeds off (my preferred method), just place in a thin layer on a finely woven drying basket, rack or on newspaper and turn regularly until dry.
  2. Once the seeds are dry and removed from the plant, you need to put them through a sieve or something similar to get out any leaf or bug bits. Some people are very sensitive to Nettle dust, so do consider wearing a face mask to keep from breathing silica and Nettle particles into your lungs. Many people also recommend wearing gloves for this part, but I have generally found it unnecessary.
  3. Now that you have a nice pile of bright green Nettle seeds, you need to jar them up and keep them in a dark, cool place. They can last at least several years this way.

How To Partake in Nettle Seed Magic

  1. Eat ‘em (my preferred method), I just take anywhere from a pinch to a tsp. of seeds and chew them up very well, then swallow. Nice and simple and comes complete with trace minerals and other goodies. Dosage runs anywhere from a small pinch to a heaping TBS several times a day. Start small and build up. Too much is indicated by feeling overstimulated or unable to sleep or rest. Some people never get this at all, some people even from a tiny bit.
  2. Tincture ‘em. Works very well as a kidney trophorestorative this way and moderately well as an adaptogen. You miss out on the extra mineral goodies though. Dosage starts at 2 drops and usually goes up to about a dropperful depending on the person and what exactly is going on in the body.
  3. Use ‘em in food. In theory, this is a great idea and it does work well for small doses, especially in salt or gomasio blends, but it does often make it hard to actually get ENOUGH Nettle seeds into a very depleted person. AND, I don’t think heat does the medicine any favors, the fresh, non-cooked seeds seems the most potent to me.

What to Use ‘em For, or, Human-centric Reasons for Alliance (or at least tolerance).

  1. Kidney Trophorestorative. Works shockingly well for many MANY cases of renal failure (even in latter stages) for people and other animals, even in cases of chronic or terminal disease. David Winston first gave us this use (direct from the Nettle, too) and it works on a miraculous level sometimes. My clinical experience with this has several times left me open-mouthed and speechless (a fairly difficult task to accomplish).
  2. Adrenal Adaptogen. Utter magic for the adrenally depleted, especially if accompanied by exhaustion, nervousness and inability to concentrate. If you have adrenal burnout you’ve probably noticed how chronic fatigue can take the sparkle out of things, and make your thinking cloudy and muddled. Everything takes on a dull, grayish cast and you feel like you’re carrying a piano on your back just walking to the front door. So, Nettle seed is fairy dust for your adrenals, and brings back sparkle, clarity and spring to the step for many people with adrenal deficiency, even if there’s thyroid or other endocrine involvement. I’ve written extensively about Nettle seeds as an adaptogen, and so has Henriette, so please read more before using yourself.

Please Note: You cannot heal Adrenal burnout with JUST herbs (although you can sure as hell suppress it for a while). Stress reduction, lifestyle change and nutrition must also be a part of the package or there will be deeper burnout and a larger price to pay in the end. Please don’t use adaptogens as a crutch to burn yourself further out ( or as jim says, get out of the damned frying pan).

Warning: Fresh Nettle seeds can be extremely stimulating, enough to keep you up all night, so please use caution in their use. I suggest using only the dried for those with adrenal exhaustion.

 

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All Pics (c)2009 Kiva Rose

  31 Responses to “The Nettle Seed Rebellion: Outlaw Plants and Their Progeny”

  1. Absolutely wonderful, thanks Kiva!

  2. Excellent Kiva – I think my exhausted adrenals could use nettle seeds in addition to the infusions I am drinking.

  3. This is wonderful. I’ve learned so much from you. Thank you, Kiva!

  4. Thanks for this article. We have a huge number of nettles on our property, and I’ve been looking for ways to use them other than just pulling them up and composting. I’ve got quite a few in a back corner of the property that I haven’t touched and that should be going to seed soon.

    Which brings me to my questions. My husband and I both have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, which keeps us exhausted and foggy much of the time. On the other hand, we both also have PTSD, which can cause huge adrenaline dumps when we get triggered. I’ve done a lot of work and don’t trigger as much as I used to, but still probably trigger once a month or so. He has only begun dealing with his issues in the last few years so triggers much more often.

    So here are my questions:
    1) Have you ever used nettle seeds on someone with Chronic Fatigue and what kind of results have you had.
    2) Considering the PTSD/adrenaline dumping issues, are we just better off avoiding something like needle seeds?

    Thanks for your input. I’ve been following your blog for a while and am learning so much from you.

  5. Thanks for all the kind comments!

    Maritzia, answering your questions in order:
    1) Yes I have but it depends very much on the individual, for Nettle seeds to work their best, adrenal depletion usually has to be at the root of much of what is going on. Usually you just have to try them and see, I’ve certainly never seen them cause harm in CFS.

    2) I have had severe PTSD most of my adult life (part of what led to the adrenal stuff in the first place) and have worked with many people (mostly women) with PTSD with Nettles, and it rarely seems to aggravate it… The thing about Nettle seeds is that they are NOT a simple stimulant but rather an adaptogen so they also help the body shift to parasympathetic dominance which actually reduces the chance of having inappropriate adrenalin rushes. If there’s significant agitation or nervousness, I would certainly recommend combining nettle seed with a nerve building formula like Milky Oats/Ashwagandha/Rose (depending on the person, of course) as well as appropriate nutritional measures (extra magnesium, b vitamins, vit d + copious amounts of healthy fats).

    Bottom line is that it’s very tricky to make recommendations based on disease diagnosis so I have to make a lot of generalizations here… usually though, Nettle seed is nourishing enough (esp in small doses) to not aggravate nervous system brittleness (almost always synonymous with adrenal depletion).

  6. Wonderful post Kiva! I always learn so much from you. Thank you for being such a wonderful teacher.

  7. Thanks so much for the reply, Kiva.

    I think I’ll go ahead and harvest those seed when they’re ready and try them out in small amounts, especially if it’ll help ameliorate some of the adrenalin rushes. It’s something both my husband and I could use.

    We’re already taking Vitamin D (a necessity in the Pacific Northwest), and eat a lot of nuts and cook with olive oil for the healthier fats (we’ve both seen our good cholesterol rise nicely from those). I haven’t taken the extra B vitamins or magnesium in a few years. I used to take a multi-vitamin, but they all contain iron which my stomach just can’t tolerate any longer, so quit taking them. I’ll look at adding those back again.

    We’ve recently moved to the country and I’m looking forward to growing more of our own food and herbs, and hopefully replacing some of the supplements we currently take with more natural alternatives.

  8. WOW! As always, darlin

  9. Such a beautiful article, Kiva, thank you. I put my first batch of nettle seed to dry last Saturday and am thinking I shall need to harvest a whole load more this summer. One of the folkfs who came to the workshop had just come out of hospital after suffering a kidney infection followed by septacaemia. I’m thinking of offering her some nettle seed with self heal and ground ivy to build her up.

  10. great post! i have been trying to re-establish a nettles patch for the past 4 years…my timing has been off. i miss my infusions and i’m eager to try out the seeds on a friend who needs some adrenal help.

    thanks for a reminder of how wonderful nettles is!

  11. Thanks Kiva,

    I really appreciate the information on harvesting the seeds. I have only a small patch hidden in a church garden and I usually have to harvest before people realize it is there, so have mixed leaf and early seeds in my preps. I really love the idea of mixing them with oatseed, ashwaganda and rose. What a beautiful combination!

  12. What time of year do the nettles go to seed?? I trust that my adrenals will benefit greatly from these little nuggets of magik and know of a few patches around town that I could become acquainted with.

    I am so thankful for all of your wisdom…your words inspire me to trust myself again.

  13. Kristina, usually any time from Summer Solstice on, depending on your location…

    Sarah, I’d love to hear how that works for your student.

    Thank to all for your very kind comments, I appreciate it and am so glad you’re enjoying and learning from my plant ramblings and ponderings!

  14. Weeds serve as an icon to outcasts and misfits, representing the outlaw nature of all things strong, wild and hellbent on not only surviving, but proliferating. If we cannot find it in our hearts to love them we can at least step back and respect their tenacity and intelligence as inspiration in our own species’ quest to adapt and thrive.

    Oh my, this is an exquisite piece of your writing, took my breath away

  15. I quoted it in my blog, let me know if you’d prefer for me to take it down

  16. ~Thank you~ for quoting it! I’m so glad it touched you and that you felt compelled to share. I’m more than happy for others to share even whole posts of mine if you just link back and credit.

  17. I am wondering if the leaves are still as potent medicinally when gone to seed. I feel like I should harvest some leaves while I am collecting the seeds. Do you eat the leaves all through the season or only in the spring??

    Thank you Kiva for your abundant wisdom and willingness to share!

  18. Kristina,

    The leaves are generally regarded as a potential kidney irritant after they flower, so no, I do not use them medicinally at that time.

    Usually though, post-seeding, when the weather cools down a bit, the nettles will send new green shoots up perfect for medicine or food. This is more likely if you keep a patch trimmed. So I usually get two eating seasons each year, one in the spring and one in fall. It will probably vary from place to place.

    You’re very welcome, thanks so much for reading!

  19. I’m a part of the herbwifery forum and frequent your blog. Your writing is really inspiring. I recently made nettle seed tincture but didn’t realize the seeds have to be green, not brown. Is the tincture I made completely unusable?
    Thanks again for all your wisdom!

  20. So glad you enjoy the blog, Jacqueline! Truthfully, I have no idea, I’ve never used the brown seeds at all. I have heard reports though, of the brown seeds being irritating from some people.

  21. Hi Kiva, I was looking up rewilding and found your blog, this is perfect timing…I wonder if you could tell me, and forgive my complete ignorance on the subject, but are there any plants in eastern North America that can be commonly confused with nettle?
    And for propagating the seeds, you would harvest them when brown right? And is there a simple way to tell the male plants from the females?

    Any help would be appreciated, I rely quite a bit on store-bought tea for adrenal support but would prefer to pick or cultivate it myself.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Lemon

  22. Lemon… Yes, there are some plants that superficially resemble Urtica, but if you’re paying attention you should be able to figure it out. They have square stems, are fibrous when older and certainly I’ve never seen any lookalikes that have a flowers and seeds anything at all like Urtica so it’s easiest to ID them during summer. Also, most lookalikes don’t actually sting like Nettles, with those little silica needles full of formic acid.

    For propogation purposes, yes, I would think the brown seeds would be quite adequate. Male from female before flowering or during?

    You’re very welcome, thank you for reading!

  23. MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE NETTLE…

    From everything I have read Urtica dioica and Laportea canadensis leaves and roots can be used in the same ways. Can the seeds as well?

  24. Kristina,

    Having never met Laportea, I haven’t the slightest idea. I suggest asking on the Herbwifery forum.

  25. [...] at all. So they’re all in vodka now too. I’ve never used nettle seeds before but Kiva Rose is a big fan and I’m looking forward to getting to know another aspect of this amazing plant. The Bilberry [...]

  26. Kiva: Do you also avoid _eating_ nettles when in flower/seed? I’ve eaten them (well cooked) and they don’t seem to cause a problem, but I don’t use them for medicine making at that time.

    For “Lemon” who was concerned about look-alikes, there is a common weed in the deep south called “nettles” — can’t tell you how many people tell me they are eating and making infusions with this plant! Heh. It’s not toxic, but it’s also not particularly beneficial and it does sting. The lovely little star-shaped flower is the giveaway that you have “spurge nettle” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spurge_nettle.

    You won’t see true (European) nettles growing wild in the deep south, but we do have the closely related Urtica chamaedryoides, which can be used just like U.dioica. But this plant is so small, it’s hard to collect enough or to even SEE the seeds! Better to just start growing your own patch of U.dioica if you can.

    Green blessings all, Florida Susan

  27. i can’t stop staring at your nettle photos. the brighter green in the center/veins is to die for, and i’ve never seen nettle with such vibrant coloring.

  28. Dear Kiva,
    You wrote : “the (nettle) seed is far less cooling and drying” (than the leaf). Do you really think that the nettle leaf is cooling ? How then do you explain that the stinging nettle was traditionnaly used as food and healing plant in North-Europa, and less in the South ?
    Kind regards
    Yves
    http://Urticamania.over-blog.com
    P.S. I’ve made an article (in french) about your position on nettle seed on my blog.

    • Hi Yves,

      Yes, energetically, I think Nettle leaf is cooling (although Culpeper and some Galenic influenced herbalists have sometimes classified it as hot, mostly due to its sting I believe), rather inherent to it’s mineral-rich nature. Many traditional wild greens are cooling, really, and are traditional “blood cleansers” or alteratives for use in spring after a long winter with little fresh food. People in Northern Europe use lots of cooling medicines/foods, and I would imagine that due to the short growing season, they gathered and used whatever was prolific and available. There’s lots of warming plants in southern Europe as well, that are used quite often…. Thyme and Rosemary are both certainly warming, but frequently used in warm climates as medicine and food… more importantly, they’re diffusive diaphoretics which helps keep circulation moving and assists the body in self-regulating temperature, just as with Cayenne. Likewise, while Nettle is cooling, it is also nourishing and building, very important for long winters.

      Thanks for the article, wish I could read French!

      Best,
      Kiva

      • Thanks. I will translate your answer on my blog.
        Fot now, after nettles, I’ve written a new book about vegetarianism, inspired by the Mahatma Gandhi. I intend to put the full text (in french) on free download on the web. It should be also an english version and may be in spanish. This should be ready at the end of the year.
        Kind regards

        • Sorry Kiwa, I lately discovered your answer. I’ve put it on my blog Urticamania, translated in french.

          May be you know François Couplan. He his an ethnobotanist, well knowed in France, has published about 30 books and loves nettles. As I asked his point of view on this subject, he replied this :

          “Personally, I don’t use nettle as “medicinal plant”, but as food for body and mind, reminding the words of Hippocrates “Be your food your medicine”.
          “Nettle shows “balancing” properties, more than “refreshing” or “heating”, which is not the lower of its virtues. Indeed, it brings to the body all the elements that it needs, without influencing it by the presence of an aromatic oil, nor by showing itself too waterry”.
          “What does concern its use in northern or southern countries, the simple explanation is that stinging nettle, Urtica dioïca, rare in mediterranean countries, is all together the best, easier useful and more frequent than the various mediterranean species, U.atrovirens, menbranacea, pilulifera etc”.

          Excuse me for the poor quality of the translation.
          I hope that this will improve your opinion about nettles.

          Sincerely

          Yves

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