Nettles: Urtica dioica, other Urtica species, also Laportea canadensis, the wood nettle is in the same family and has similar properties, but alternate leaves, not opposite. You find Urtica near rivers and in low lying shady woods and Laportea higher on the mountain trails. The nettles should be gathered before their flowering. The flowers hang from their leaf nodes and are greenish in branched clusters. Nettles have little hairs that have formic acid in them and will sting and irritate most people’s skin. Plantain, impatiens (touch me nots), or yellow dock leaves are soothing to rub on if you are stung.
The leaves are one of early spring’s greatest delicacies. They are wonderful gently steamed and can be used in any recipe where you would use spinach or combined with spinach if you have a spring abundance of it. The tops of the nettle stalks (top 5-10 inches of the stalk) can be cut into a bag even without gloves if you are careful. Steaming or blending into a green drink or juicing all keep the formic acid from affecting you. Drying for tea does as well. This is a good plant to dry and use in soups and teas in the winter. Once the nettles flower, you will want to stop harvesting them but you can cut them back and get another harvest later in the season.
Nettles can be eaten every day in spring or drunk as tea regularly. They are high in iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, selenium, silicon, chromium, cobalt, phosphorus, copper, sulfur, as well as vitamins C, B complex, D, K, carotenoids, and amino acids (they contain 10-42% protein!) and so are very strengthening, building blood and bones. They also strengthen the plasma membrane of cells, making them less vulnerable to inflammation and allergic reactions.
Nettles taken with yellow dock will particularly help build the iron content of blood. A combination of raspberry leaves, borage leaves, fennel seeds, and nettles is a wonderful postpartum tea to add nutrients to breast milk as well as to mom. Nettles are also wonderful for menopausal women, reducing night sweats (good with sage) and supporting energy