And the health benefits of nettles!
Many people are unaware of the numerous health benefits of nettles – and homemade nettle soup is an easy (ok somewhat unusual) way to incorporate them into the diet. Plus it’s super cheap as you don’t have to buy the main ingredient.
Stinging nettles pop up in my garden every spring, and for years I tried and failed to eradicate every trace of them. After realising that they actually have great nutritional benefits and also attract beneficial insects to the garden, I decided to let them run wild in a small patch of ground in the corner of my vegetable patch. So now I harvest the young leaves and then leave the plants to flower for the bees and butterflies over summer.
Nettles are one of our most nutritious yet overlooked plants – but we tend to think of them just as an invasive weed rather than a food.
Yet nettles have a long history of medicinal use throughout the world, and although ‘evidence’ is a little patchy – they’re the continuing subject of over 400 research papers on a range of health conditions.
Much of this research is based on nettle extracts (varying proportions of root, stalk and leaves) but a big advantage of using the fresh leaves in season is
- they’re free
- the beneficial phenolic compounds (antioxidants) are much higher in fresh leaves.
Nettle leaf and nettle root have different health benefits though – and there’s much confusion about the two.
Fresh nettle leaves are easy to use at home, and are:
- Packed with nutrients: they’re a great source of vitamin C, B vitamins, Vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, phytonutrients and a tiny amount of Omega 3 fats. A cup of cooked nettles has nearly 430mg of calcium – nearly half our recommended daily intake and more than than double the amount of spinach and other ‘calcium rich’ dark green leafy vegetables; a cup of milk in comparison has around 300mg.
- A diuretic: helping to increase the flow of urine and potentially also lowering blood pressure*
- Detox supportive: we suggest nettle soup in our spring detox programmes as the high levels of nutrients, phytonutrients and chlorophyll they contain provide nourishment and gentle support for our detoxification systems. Their diuretic action also helps to flush toxins from the body.
- Anti-inflammatory: for years nettle leaves have been used for their anti-inflammatory action for osteoarthritis, eczema, hayfever and other allergic conditions, potentially helping to ‘lower’ allergic responses in some studies. This is likely due to their potent anti-histamine effect (they have a fantastic mix of quercetin and Vitamin C) as well as their ability to reduce other inflammatory mediators and markers (including TNFα, IL-6 and hsCRP). This anti-inflammatory effect is also thought to be responsible for their association with reduction of urinary tract symptoms as well as prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland; symptoms can include incomplete bladder emptying, constant urge to urinate and reduced urinary flow).
- Great for the hair: for centuries nettle leaf has been used as a hair and scalp treatment for oily hair and dandruff – and improving hair condition (possibly due to the silica content of the hairs on the nettle leaf)
Nettle Roots aren’t really user-friendly at home (you’ll need supplements or tinctures) – and have a more specific use:
- Nettle root is used primarily for urinary conditions linked to an enlarged prostate, BPH (Benign Prostate Hyperplasia) and male pattern hair loss. The mechanism is believed to be an interaction with the nettle root, a protein called SHBG and the aromatase enzyme – resulting in modulation of testosterone levels.
How to use fresh nettle leaves:
The perfect time to cook with nettles is now – when they’re young and the leaves are tender – before the nettles flower. You’ll need gloves to gather them so that you don’t get stung, but the method is quick and simple – just snip the 3-4 top leaves off a young nettle plant and pop them in a carrier bag (for this recipe you’ll need about ½ a carrier bag of nettle tops). Once nettles are cooked or crushed the sting disappears.
Nettle leaves can be enjoyed dried (in tea), as a tincture or fresh:
- In soup
- Pesto (replace or mix basil with blanched nettle leaves)
- As a tea (steep leaves in a pot)
Our nettle soup recipe is easy to make in bulk and freeze so you can benefit from the leaves even when they’re out of season. We add seasonal new potatoes which are a great source of potassium, fibre and Vitamin C. The olive oil or butter to sauté in is important – it helps to liberate the beneficial carotenoids (Vitamin A precursor) in the leaves.
*Note: If you’re pregnant, have liver, kidney problems or are on any sort of medication including (diuretics, blood pressure or anti-diabetic medication), check with your doctor before raising your intake of nettles.
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