Grandma’s Home Remedies – This month is all about Stinging Nettles!
In addition to the numerous homeopathic remedies, essential oils, and nutritional supplements at our disposal today, we also enjoy the benefit of the wisdom of plant lore handed down through the centuries. When addressing any health issue, we ought to take advantage of as many varied modalities of treatment as possible and appropriate.
If you are like my family, you have a Grandmother or relative who used old fashioned remedies whenever a family member needed some extra TLC. Grandma’s knowledge and understanding of natural remedies, handed down for generations before “modern” medicine took over, are still invaluable. Even with mankind’s achievements and scientific advancements in technology, the “ancient” methods that have been tested and proven over centuries, are often the most effective in treating common conditions. It will become even more essential to employ fundamental principles which have demonstrated success in the past if we should ever come to a time of TEOTWAWKI.
Our household still relies on Grandma’s traditional concoctions, which really aren’t so out-of-date after all, considering how many of our current therapies are actually synthetic forms of natural plants. The benefits of using fresh or dried botanicals as opposed to man-made chemicals are many, including less likelihood of severe allergic reactions and other adverse affects of artificial substances. Grandma always said that whatever your body needs to heal can be grown and prepared as a remedy. One of her favorite go-to’s for all-around rejuvenation was the lowly stinging nettle plant, botanical name: Urtica dioica, Urtica galeopsifolia. Nettle is one of the most nutritious herbs in the world, and Grandma and her ancestors knew it, as they applied their understanding and perception of its benefits to the care of their families.
She would brew up a kettle of steaming nettle tea if anyone showed signs of seasonal allergies or symptoms of colds or flu. A little bit of local raw honey stirred into the tea also helped a person who was suffering from sensitivities to pollen. Besides, the addition of sweet honey made the tea more palatable for kids and grown ups alike, although Grampa bragged that he liked to drink it straight! Local honey contains pollen from regional plants, hopefully the ones you are allergic to, which helps to desensitize the body and prevent over-reactions to natural substances. In Grandma’s day, all they had access to was raw honey, which is best because pasteurizing destroys the beneficial pollen, and filtering removes much of it. If someone was feeling debilitated or just tired and worn out, Grandma would be on the spot with one of her nettle potions. She believed that nettles help bring our bodies back to a state of internal stability, also known as homeostasis, so she would rely on nettles as a spring tonic after a long, hard winter. A cup of piping hot nettle tea was standard therapy in Grandma’s house for anyone suffering from joint stiffness or arthritis.
Numerous studies have proven that Grandma knew what she was talking about! Some of the world’s leading research institutions have found nettles to possess many powerful, positive benefits. Scientific tests have established the fact that they do indeed invigorate and strengthen the liver, blood, kidneys, and bladder, as well as provide relief from inflammatory conditions. The stinging nettle has antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-ulcer, astringent and analgesic capabilities. A few references can be found at this link: https://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/benefits-of-stinging-nettle/
Following in the footsteps of her knowledge, we still gather the young nettles in spring and summer. Nettles are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and other natural compounds. The tender leaves taste a lot like spinach. Steaming, cooking, freezing, or drying the leaves removes the stinging chemicals, which allows the nettles to be used safely in a tea, soups, or as a vegetable side dish.
Nettles are most potent when gathered in early spring before flowering, usually between March and June, depending on the weather and latitude. Use scissors and gloves to harvest, as stinging nettle definitely lives up to its name! It has tiny hairs that contain formic acid, and can cause burning and itching. If you do happen to come in direct contact, a good natural antidote is lamb’s quarters, which can often be found growing in the same vicinity. Gently rub a few leaves of lamb’s quarters on the skin, and the itching and burning will cease quickly. It is important not to scratch the area, which can push the chemicals further into the skin, extending the irritation time for days. Using duct tape can help remove any additional fibers. The chemical irritants can also be removed from the skin by rinsing with water and then washing with soap and water. Today it is important to remember not to harvest foods from areas which have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
To Dry Nettles:
Using gloves, rinse nettle plants, bundle stems with leaves intact, and hang them upside down in a dark dry place, or strip the leaves off the stem and place them in paper bags. Shake the bags and rotate them every few days until nettles are dry. Store dried nettles in a glass jar, away from sunlight.
To Make Tea:
Wash and handle leaves with clean rubber gloves. Use about ten fresh leaves, or one tablespoon of dried nettles per cup of boiled water. Cover with a lid and steep 15 minutes to several hours. Grandma kept a pot of hot tea on the stove throughout the day. Drink the tea hot or cold, according to your preference. A sprig of mint or drop of peppermint essential oil gives it added flavor and zest. Adding honey and lemon also makes a refreshing beverage. Drinking one to three cups of tea a day seems to alleviate symptoms quickly. The tea can be kept in the refrigerator for three or four days if you prefer to make a larger batch.
Heat water, bone broth, or soup stock to a simmer in a large soup pot. Add chopped carrots, celery, onion, and garlic, or any of your favorite soup vegetables. Bring the broth back up to simmer, add nettle leaves, chopped or whole, cover with lid, and simmer gently on low for ten to twenty minutes, depending on how well you like your vegetables cooked. One of our favorite nettle soups consisted of Grandma’s home-grown potatoes, leeks from her garden, and home-made sausage – a hearty and nourishing meal for a cool spring evening!
As a Side Dish:
Nettles can be used in any dish where you would use steamed spinach. This was always a standby at Grandma’s house in the spring, summer, and fall because it is quick, easy, and delicious. Our family continues the tradition by adding different spices or toppings. Dandelion greens, chard, or kale can also be used, either alone or in any combination. Gather a large bag of fresh greens, wash, and tear into small pieces, or cut with scissors. Sauté 1 small chopped onion and 2 cloves of chopped garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter until tender. Add nettles and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Cover for a couple of minutes, then sauté until greens are tender – about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with fresh Parmesan or feta cheese if desired. Or try steamed nettles topped with just butter and lemon pepper – very tasty and even quicker!
One of the most important lessons we learned from Grandma was to eat as close to nature as possible. She taught us that when harvesting wild foods, we must respect the land and always leave some plants so they can reseed or regrow. “Be gentle,” she would say, “and only take what you need.” By observing her life, we learned that when it comes to food, simpler is better. She selected the best of what grows naturally from the ground. She never used any artificial ingredients or toxic sweeteners found in processed, packaged foods. The foods she served her family were organic and health-giving. That might explain why she lived a long and productive life!
Look for more of Grandma’s secrets to health and longevity In future newsletters.