During this time of the year, I often experience an allergic reaction when I’ve been around trees and plants that produce lots of pollen and cottony-fluff, like willows, cottonwoods, oaks and cattail. I’ve tried numerous remedies over the years to combat the allergy, but all with limited success.
But finally, one of the natural remedies seemed to have good results. Nettle tea. I’ve long heard of the many health benefits of eating nettles and drinking nettle tea. I’ve eaten the greens like spinach for decades. But once I heard about using tea made with nettle leaves (dried or fresh) for allergies, I’ve started drinking it pretty regularly in the evenings. And it has helped to relieve congestion and improve my ability to breathe. It seems to work even better than my old standby, Mormon tea.
Since I’ve used up my limited supply of dried nettle, and because I don’t want to keep paying high prices for the tea packages at Whole Foods, I went out to collect a large bag of nettles. I know of a field that gets mowed down every year, so I knew the nettles were not valued. I went there with my cloth bag and my scissors, finding it easiest to clip off the tender tops with a pair of sharp scissors and just let the nettles drop into the bag without touching them. After a while, my hand got nettled a little, but they don’t seem to bother me that much anymore.
Nutritionally, nettles are a good source of Vitamin C and A. According to the USDA’s Composition of Foods, 100 grams of nettles contains 6,500 IU (international units) of Vitamin A, and 76 mg. of Vitamin C.
Herbalist Michael Moore, author of “Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West,” describes nettles as a diuretic and astringent, and he advises the tea for use in cases of internal bleeding.
It is probably common knowledge that nettles provided food for Europeans during World War II when normal food supplies were not there. Nettles grew everywhere, and many good recipes were developed during that era.
It felt good to be alone in the field, where it was quiet and green and misty. But I wasn’t totally alone. There were people walking by. One woman just looked at me as she and her friend passed, and it was a very telling look. “Wow, I really pity you!” was written all over her face. Oh, well. I’ve heard worse.
A guy wandered over and wondered what I was doing. Collecting nettles, I told him, and maybe if David Letterman ate them, and changed his diet, he wouldn’t have needed a quadruple by-pass surgery. OK, so the man, Harold, wasn’t so interested in what I thought about Letterman. But he just watched a bit, perhaps amused, and then he told me a story.
He said that he’s collected nettles before for food, because he liked to eat them. He didn’t know they were also good medicine.
He told of how one day, while picking nettles by himself, someone wandered over and wanted to know what he was doing. Not knowing the man, Harold said he was just picking nettles. And then he added, “To eat.” The stranger looked at him closely and finally said, “You think I’m dumb, don’t you? That’s marijuana you’re picking.” Harold was a bit dumbfounded, and he wanted to say, “You really are far stupider than you look,” but instead, he said, “Of course not.”
The stranger just flashed a knowing smile, and then he hung around. Harold soon wandered off but hid behind a tree. He saw the stranger pulling up bunches of nettle and walking off with them. Harold laughed, probably correctly thinking that the man would go home, dry the leaves and try to smoke them
I finally left with my bag very full of nettle greens. Some of the tops went into our evening soup. The rest I cleaned and set out to dry for future tea. The soup was tasty and very enjoyable. I came to realize that nettles are some of the most underrated — and tastiest — wild greens out there.
Christopher Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” which contains a chapter on Nettles. He’s also the author of “How to Survive Anywhere.” Both are available at bookstores, Amazon and the store at SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.