I wanted to take some time to talk about the wonderful gifts of the plant Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) , which is very abundant here in the Pacific Northwest (CA north to AK).You can find them moist, shady places, and will know them immediately by touch once you feel their mild sting (the sting is really just little hairs on the plant that contain formic acid). I never see a stinging nettle by itself, and often see them in dense stands.
How will I know I am looking at stinging nettle? If you don’t feel like getting stung, you can ID the plant by the opposite leaves, square stem, roundish-to-lanceolate leaves with serrations along edges, and leaves that are dark green above and lighter below. It is an erect plant that I have seen grow to my height (just over 5 feet), and when it gets that tall it often tips over into an arc. When plant matures, green seed clusters appear at point where the leaves are connected to the stem.
What parts of the nettle will I use, and when do I harvest it? When harvesting fibers to make cordage, harvest the tall, mature plant after it has gone to seed (usually in fall). When harvesting the leaves for edible and medicinal purposes, harvest leaves off of a young plant that has not yet flowered (usually in spring-mid summer)– once the nettle plant flowers, it begins to create a chemical that is difficult for the body to digest. When harvesting nettle seeds for edible and medicinal purposes, harvest them when you see them! They usually show up in the late summer.
NETTLE LEAVES ARE EDIBLE, and contain tons of vitamins and minerals. They contain vitamins A and D, iron, calcium, potassium, sodium, and more. If you are daring, you can nibble on the leaves raw, or else cook them up however you like. They are good cooked like spinach, added to a stir fry, or marinaded and dehydrated into tasty nettle chips. You can even make them into a nettle pesto, or nettle cookies! The possibilities are endless.
NETTLE IS VERY MEDICINAL, both the leaves and the seeds. USES of the leaves: Nettle is a diuretic, astringent and tonic, and is an aid to circulation. Use the leaves in either a tincture or tea for these purposes. As a DIURETIC it eliminates water retention and menstrual bloating, as well as flushes extra acidity out of the kidneys. For aiding in CIRCULATION it increases the transport and excretion of blood-nitrogen wastes; so it is good for arthritis, eczema, and psoriasis. As an ASTRINGENT AND TONIC, it tightens and strengthens tissues; so it is good for healing scrapes and cuts, and also to lessen bleeding; it is also known for tightening inflamed urethral and bladder membranes, so it is good for ailments (infections, inflammations, etc) of urinary organs. USES of the seeds: the seeds stimulate the adrenals, and so is a good coffee substitute. Dry the seeds, grind them up, and add them to hot water or tea.
p.s. some great books that I use for information on edible and medicinal plants are Medicinal Plants of the Northwest by Michael Moore, Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory Tilford, Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schoefield, and Indian Herbology of North America by Alma Hutchins… of course there are many many more, but these are a good start.