I’ll See Your Purslane and Raise You

September 8, 2010 in Antioxidants, Blog Recipes, Diabetes Management, Home and Garden by Mary Ireland

“And yet, this detested weed is one of the finest and most nutritious foods in the whole plant kingdom. Unlike many health foods, nettle greens are really good, as well as being good for you.” -- Euell Gibbons, an authority on wild foods and foraging.

So, Dr. Grandma wants to talk weeds, does she? I’ll see her purslane and raise her one stinging nettle. Referred to as the "Rodney_Dangerfield of the plant world -- it gets no respect.

I never had encountered stinging nettle until I moved to the mountain west 20 years ago. Whenever I went traipsing through the forest, I was always on the lookout for poison ivy, the bane of my existence since childhood. I like stinging nettle because it is more up front with you – making its presence known immediately and not waiting for several days for you to find out how much you’ve gotten into. Having said that, it isn't at all pleasant to run into.

But, Dr. Grandma, not only is stinging nettle more unpleasant than purslane, it contains more vitamin K and lutein + zeaxanthin than purslane or kale, plus more than four times the amount of calcium. And similar to those and other green leafy plants, it is loaded with other phytonutrients.

More and more people are realizing the nutritional values of nettles and using them. Two examples are this Stinging Nettle Soup recipe on the All Recipes, Australia/New Zealand site and the book by 101 Uses for Stinging Nettles Piers Warren.

Dr. Grandma's note:' A few years after moving to the mountain west (and having never met Stinging Nettle) Vic and I were in Lichtenstein (traveling by car from Switzerland to Austria) visiting a small museum (note the museum was even smaller than the country.) At any rate, I was walking along a path, holding my arm out touching the flowers along the way – yes, such as a child does. When all of a sudden, yikes! I sensed that I had just met Stinging Nettle. I asked Vic to come back and look at the plant, and he, having grown up in the mountain west, confirmed that I had properly met and shaken hands with Stinging Nettle. Since that time, I have been slightly more careful; especially when I spot a patch of Stinging Nettle. I may now have a kindly thought toward it; knowing how nourishing it is.

Stinging nettle is best to eat in the spring when the shoots are still young and tender. You can facilitate new growth by cutting back old growth. The fall, with cooler temperatures and more rainfall, is an especially good time to cut the plant back for new growth. Also, you should check in your local health food store. I found stinging nettle on sale for $6.99 a pound.

Stinging nettle also has a long medicinal history. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, "Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. It is still used today for urinary tract infections, for hay fever, joint pain, tendonitis, and insect bites.

Stinging nettle is available as dried or freeze-dried leaves, dried leaves in capsules, and as root tincture (a solution of the herb in alcohol). The following "Possible Interactions" are posted on the University of Maryland Medical Center website referenced above. I thought it would give you some idea of the power of stinging nettle and the concept of food as medicine.

Antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs (blood-thinners) -- Stinging nettle may affect the blood's ability to clot, and could interfere with blood-thinning drugs, including:

  • Warfarin (Coumadin)
  • Clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • Aspirin

Drugs for high blood pressure -- Stinging nettle may lower blood pressure, so it could make the effects of these drugs stronger:

  • ACE inhibitors: Captpril (Capoten), Elaropril (Vasotec), lisinopril (Zestril), fosinopril (Monopril)
  • Beta blockers: Atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL), propranolol (Induran)
  • Calcium channel blockers: Nifedipine (Procardia), amlodipine (Norvasc), verapamil (Calan, Isoptin)

Diuretics (water pills) -- Because stinging nettle can act as a diuretic, it can increase the effects of these drugs, raising the risk of dehydration:

  • Furosemide (Lasix)
  • Hydrocholorothiazide

Drugs for diabetes -- Stinging nettle may lower blood sugar, so it could make the effects of these drugs stronger, raising the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) -- In a scientific study of patients with acute arthritis, stewed stinging nettle leaves enhanced the anti-inflammatory effect of diclofenac, an NSAID. Although the effect can reduce pain, talk to your doctor before taking or using stinging nettle if you also take NSAIDs.

Try my Black Bean and Stinging Nettle Soup to warm up on cool autumn days.