This just in: Stinging Nettles Itch.
So I'd picked the last nettles (Urtica dioica) in seed a couple weeks ago and hung them up to dry. Today (or actually, last week by the time you get to read this) I worked them through a sieve.
Nettles sting because they're covered in tiny hairs, which are hollow and filled with something very close to formic acid. Formic acid gives normal ants their sting - dunno what fireants use, but it must be something with a bit more, ahem, sting.
The hairs of nettles break easily, and when they do they get very sharp edges. This makes it easy for the breaking hairs to get under your skin where they then can deliver their payload -- the itch.
When you rub nettle seed (and some green leaf) through a sieve some of the itchy hairs go as dust into the air. Inhaling them is no problem, but after you've been rubbing for a while you notice that you get a layer of dust on your face, and that dust itches. It's been a while since last I'd rubbed nettle seed, and I'd forgotten all about that bit.
People think that only fresh nettles sting; people are wrong. Nettles continue to itch until they're either boiled (which breaks the hollow hairs) or dried and rubbed through a sieve (which also breaks the hairs).
Yes, simply dried nettles still itch. The not quite formic acid is still in those hairs, and the hairs are still whole, even after you've dried the herb.
So I used gloves while working my nettle seed, because if you handle lots of nettles, dried or fresh, your hands will tingle for about a week unless you protect them.
Nettle seeds have to be rubbed through a sieve: you just eat them, you don't boil them in any way. Believe you me, mouth mucosa is way more sensitive than fingertips. I know, 'cos I made a nettle salad back when I was 16, in the days when I trusted recipes in herb books rather more than I do now. I tried a few bites of that salad (no mention anywhere in that recipe of having to crush the nettles, boil them, or otherwise get rid of the sting). I was the only one in our family to do so ... that book went to the rubbish bin faster than you can say "it bloody itches!".
The dose, of properly de-stinged nettle seed, is 1-2 tablespoons nettle seed a day in yogurt, thick juice or similar.
Pic: Nettle seed climbing up the sides of a glass of water.
You can put the seeds in (or on) whatever you like, but nettle seed in water won't work: the nettle seed is so light that it'll stay on top of the water, and if you stir things around a bit you have a glass of water with nettle seeds floating on top and climbing up the sides of the glass. Lemmesee if I can get a pic of that here... yep:
And that's just a tablespoon of nettle seed.
I don't usually rub other parts of nettle through a sieve; there's no need, you drink the leaf as tea (pour boiling water over, let steep, strain, drink), or boil it for food; and the root doesn't sting.
Using nettle seed
Back in the 1800s dishonest horse peddlers in Germany, Hungary and Ireland (and probably other places) used to give 1-2 handsful of nettle seed a day to horses for about 2 weeks before they took them to market. This gave the horses shiny pelts and a youthful appearance, and brought a handsome price. The youthfulness of course disappeared once the animals got to their new homes - no nettle seed.
A German doc, working at a home for the aged, heard about this in the mid-1900's, and thought, hmmm, interesting, "Nurse! 1-2 tablespoons of dried nettle seed a day to all our inmates please." And his patients got interested in life again, got the energy to do things, and some of them even got some fire back into their libido.
Ever since I read about that German doc I've use nettle seeds for run-down, overly tired, burned-out, or just bone-weary people -- folks who would do things if they just had the energy for it.
Nettle seeds are adaptogens. They help with the general stress response, they strengthen the adrenals, and they're loaded with minerals and trace elements. The seeds themselves - nuts, a botanical term, nothing to do with allergies to nuts - also contain nice healthy fats, but I doubt that our digestive system can get at them; if any of you have ever made the 2-week-nettle-fertilizer, and made the mistake of using nettles in seed, you know that while the rest of the plant dissolves in the stinking mess the seeds will come through just fine -- and they'll germinate everywhere, too.
David Winston uses nettle seed for all sorts of kidney trouble. Well, the adrenals sit on top of the kidneys, it sort of makes sense that the seeds would help both.
And Jim McDonald uses a combination of fresh nettle herb tincture and fresh milky oats tincture where I'd use nettle seed. Which makes sense in its own way, too: milky oats is an excellent nerve restorer, and Jim uses herbs specifically, in drop doses, where fresh herb tinctures are at their very best.
A nice herb, nettle. And the seed is an excellent and underused medicine.