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Nettle seed.

Botanical name:
Problems:

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.

Photo: Urtica dioica 24. 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.

--
Related entry: Picking nettle seed - Nettle greens - Nettle seed from Finland - Celeriac nettle soup

Comments

that's funny... my write up on Nettle says something to the effect of "finnish herbalist Henriette Kress uses nettle seed where I use fresh nettle and milky oats tincture...

And, I've started using the seed, too... though I tinctured it, since I didn't really gather enough to eat by the spoonful. While I haven't used it myself, the person I gave it to bought all I had and has already solicited me to get some more this year. You ever used the seed tincture, or have any thoughts about including some of the remaining leaves attached to the tops of the plants?

(maybe I'm just trying to get out of garbling...)

I do use some of the upper leaf. I remove diseased ones and black ones, but the rest? Shrug, it's nettle, and fairly young nettle.
Haven't used tincture, dunno if that'd work in exhaustion. David Winston uses it for kidney trouble, which is a different kind of horse.

Thanks for this wonderful article on Nettle Seed. Is there a monograph available that you know of? Also, I am wondering how to determine the appropriate time to collect and dry the seeds. Thank you for your valuable contributions to Herb Digest.
LM

I'll do a post on picking the seeds later on.

This is just wonderful, Henriette. Last season I picked some seed and dried them, and tried them once but not in yogurt, possibily they stayed on the glass. So I saved some and this fall I sowed the seeds in likely spots near me. I have only found true diotica utica at a three mile walk from me.

When the seeds are ripe, by the time they are dry and black, I found it hard to separate the seeds from the rest and boy are those needles sharp and strong at the end of the season. I think I will have to get gloves that go up to my elbow.
Thank you.

I don't look at the color of the seeds themselves - when they're heavy enough to hang down they're ready to pick.

The whole package should be green; if it's black you're out picking way too late. That's a prime example of a plant that's ripe for picking.

As to separating from the rest, that's what the sieve is for; that takes care of dried snailshells, black leaves, the strings the seeds were growing on, and all the rest.

i happened upon this site in a search. i'm looking for information about david winston's use of nettle seed for kindey failure. does anyone know where to find anything published on the matter? i think the journal of the American Herbalists Guild ran an article but do not know when. -thanks.

Hi, my name is Omar, and I would like to know, if yuo have any information, where to buy, or to get a plant, or where to buy NETTLE seeds.
Thank you for any information you can obtain for me,
Bye, Omar

As far as I know you can't buy them in Europe, which is why I'm so detailed in my here's how you pick your own -blogpost.

Dunno about the Sahara, Antarctis, or wherever you are at.

Update: I've found a supplier of nettle seeds a couple hundred kms north of me. See this blogpost for details. -Henriette 22Sep06.

are there microscopic bugs on the nettle leaves or was that guy who told me drunk?

You'll find microbes and fungal spores on everything.

I let the nettle seeds soak in yogurth for up to 8 hours, they become soft and I can bite on them, I think that this way all the goodness may be better absorbed by the body; am I doing the right thing?

Possibly. Try it for a few weeks, then try unsoaked nettle seeds for a few weeks, then let us know the difference. Thanks!

Just wondering people's thoughts on the medicinal use of the seed of annual nettle - Urtica urens. It's much more common where I live than U. dioica, and it flowers/goes to seed early so if you want nettle greens before flowering you're generally out of luck. It'd be nice if the seed were useful instead.

This year I will be harvesting nettle seeds. A few questions:

1. does tincturing affect the availability of protein? just curious...
2. can nettle seed be safely used in conjunction with THYROID MEDICATION? (I take meds for very low thyroid, as nettle infusions, even daily, do not improve condition).
3. what is a "dose" of nettle seed?

THANK YOU!!!

Oh Hetta, I just love you and your blog! I possibly never would have thought of eating Nettle Seeds if it wasn't for this post. I cannot tell you how grateful I am, as small daily amounts of Nettle Seeds are healing my adrenal fatigue like nothing else.... I'm taking them in conjunction with minerals, appropriate diet and other herbs of course. But they are definitely the herb that shifted the balance.

Wow, I can stand up without passing out now.... thank you!

Cool!

Hi Henriette,

I first encountered your blog in 2005 when looking for nettle seed tincture to buy. I'm a homoeopath and had a patient with adrenal exhaustion and kidney function on the border of failure and dialysis. I found the tincture (elk mountain herbs) and two years later not only is the patient's kidney function much improved (proved by blood test) but I have found more and more uses for nettle seed and tincture. I use it routinely for adrenal exhaustion and as a kidney support with great results, also use it in preference to anything else as a diuretic because it is not only healing to the kidney but also preserves the potassium levels in the kidney unlike many other diuretics which don't. Just thought I'd give some feedback and answer the question on whether the tincture works in place of the seeds. Thanks for a great blog!

Thanks for that, Sue!

Hello! I work for the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia® and we are researching a monograph on Urtica dioica. Your blog (November 18, 2004) was reference in an email from David Winston to Herbal Hall. I know that this is a very dated blog entry, but since I'd like to reference a portion of the blog ("In the 1800's dishonest horse peddlers in Germany, Hungary, and Ireland used to give 1-2 handfuls of nettle seed a day to horses for about 2 weeks before they took them to market....") I was curious if you recalled the original source? If you did that would be terrific.

From "TEE-lehti" 5/1979 (a Finnish health magazine):

"It is told about Hungarian horse peddlers that, before they sold horses, they fed them a handful of nettle seed a day for a few days. The horses got shiny pelts and springy steps.
The German naturopath Pumpe took notice of this and gave crushed nettle seeds in honey to the elderly, with excellent results, among others in the libido.

"The Romans knew their nettle seeds: in Ovidius 'Ars Amatoria' you'll find a recipe with nettle seeds in an aphrodisiac drink. Medieval herbals tell of nettle seeds' use for frostbite. J. Kral, in "Phytoterapie", 1970, thought that this was due to growth hormone, and said that in their experience, a few weeks' worth of nettle seeds was very vitalizing to the elderly. Hoppe (1975) says to use nettle seeds for skin problems, rheumatism, small wounds and inflammation.

"A German outfit has started to market nettle seeds in wine, of which you take 10 cl after meals. This should work for the lungs, the digestion and the urinary tract."

I'm sure I've seen German references to the horse peddlers, too, but I don't have all my old books anymore.
For other uses of the seeds, you might wish to check Dioscorides and Madaus, among others.

I am very interested in nettle seed and have discovered that Rutland Biodynamics sell both the tincture and loose seeds. I have noticed that youdo not mention taking the seed as an infusion. Is there a reason why this would not be effective?

Judy

I have been taking nettle seeds for eight months now, after a few weeks my body stopped acheing as much as before and I felt a little more energetic, not that much...hopefully with time....will let you know.
Maria

Hi - just stumbled upon this blog post while trying to find out any info on Nettle Seed *dosage* - not many hits on ye ol' World Wide Web. A friend gave me a jar of (purchased, not picked) Nettle Seeds and told me to feed them to my son who (I've been told) needs adrenal support. But I have no idea just how much to give him. Yesterday I put about 1/2 tsp over some goat milk yogurt and mixed in a bit of granola and he loved it (we also made sure he licked the sides of the bowl to make sure he got every seed.) So giving it to him is no problem, but I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on whether this is too much, too little, or just right? Thanks!

The dose for an adult (about 70 kg) is from a pinch to a tablespoon. If he's not overly sensitive, 1/2 teaspoon will be just fine. As will 1 teaspoon, or, if he's an adult, as will 1 tablespoon.



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