I’m starting this series with purple dead nettle because it’s one of the first things I harvest in the springtime. It pops up early and quick, and it’s only around for about a week. So, when you see it, it’s time to act! Once it’s gone, you won’t see it for another year!
Why is it Called “Dead” Nettle?
One of the first questions I always hear when talking about this plant is, “Why is it called dead nettle?” It does sound a little morbid, but there’s actually a reason.
There are roughly 50 of these Lamium species, and they are a part of the mint family. Just like mint, you’ll find their stems have a square shape, their leaves are toothy around the edges, and they have the ability to spread heavily.
The reason they’re called “dead” nettle is that they look a lot like common varieties of stinging nettle, but they don’t actually have the ability to sting. Hence, the sting is “dead.”
Is Purple Dead Nettle Edible?
Yes! More than that, it’s actually considered a superfood with amazing nutrition properties. It contains an abundance of vitamins, especially vitamin C, and loads of fiber and iron. The seeds contain oils that are laden with antioxidants. You can eat the whole plant, and most people use it the same way they would use any other greens.
Even though it is a member of the mint family, it doesn’t actually taste like mint at all. It’s mild, with a flavor that has been described as floral and grassy. From my own usage, which includes the dehydrated form, I can say that it is quite earthy and can be just a touch bitter sometimes. Be careful to add only a little bit at a time until you know how it’s going to work with flavors you like.
Here are a few ways you can utilize this backyard wonder in your diet:
- Finely minced, you can use it as a garnish for a wide variety of foods. However, before adding it to anything, I would recommend you taste it first to make sure you’re adding a flavor you enjoy.
- Adding them to smoothies is very popular, and it works very well with mango and bananas. This is a great way to maximize the nutrition you get from the plant.
- Add them, raw and washed, to any salad or soup.
- They’re perfect as a tea, either fresh or dehydrated. This is one of the most common ways I prepare it, and it pairs well with ginger, dandelion root, burdock, milk thistle, and sage. To make a tea, use 3 Tablespoons of dried herb in one cup of boiling water, allowing it to steep for at least five minutes.
It’s Used for Extensive Home Remedies
I am not a doctor and do not recommend these remedies in any way as an alternative to medical care. If you are having serious health problems, be sure to consult a physician.
With all of that being said, here are a few of its very common benefits:
- Anti-bacterial – Helps the body destroy microorganisms and strengthens the immune system in the process.
- Anti-fungal – Reduces or stops the growth of fungal organisms and yeast.
- Anti-inflammatory – Inflammation is often a defense the body uses against infection. However, it can also be harmful, resulting in the damage of tissue and more. Anti-inflammatories can reduce pain, swelling, and redness, which can be associated with various problems.
- Diuretic – Diuretics promote salt and water excretion, which causes an increase in the amount of urine produced. In essence, this helps rid the body of excess fluid and toxins that can accompany it. For those with liver, heart, or kidney problems, there is often a reduction of edema, while diuretics are also used to treat high blood pressure and sometimes glaucoma.
- Astringent – When an herb has an astringent property, it shrinks or draws tissue. When used topically, this can work to pull out splinters and tone skin. Internally, they tone mucous membranes and work to alleviate excess mucous and drainage.
- Diaphoretic – Used to cause heavy sweating and perspiration. Many might consider this problematic, but it’s actually more valuable than you might think. Since our skin is the body’s largest organ, waste elimination through sweating is actually a great way to help our body function better. This can go on to promote better circulation as well since surface capillaries will be moving more freely.
- Reduces allergy symptoms – In addition to reducing many of the symptoms of various allergies, they have also been known to protect against the secondary problems that can come along with allergies, such as bronchial and throat infections.
To create a salve…
Mix one-half cup of dried leaves and a cup of olive oil or coconut oil in an oven-safe container. Make sure you measure the coconut oil in a liquid state. Place in a 200-degree oven for two hours to allow the nettle to properly infuse.
At the end of two hours, take the container out of the oven and let it cool. Strain well, add three Tablespoons of beeswax to the oil and put it back in the oven to melt everything together.
Once these are thoroughly melted together, pour into a pint jar and cover tightly. If you like, you can add no more than 30 drops of essential oils (NO CINNAMON! This is not recommended for use on skin.) and blend well.
To use, rub generously onto minor cut, scrapes, or bruises to speed healing.
Foraging for and Storing Purple Dead Nettle
Depending on where you live, you’re likely to find purple dead nettle in your own back yard! If you forage on a larger scale, my most important piece of advice is to NEVER collect purple dead nettle, or any plant for that matter, along roadsides or off the edge of large parking lots. The chemicals deposited on the plants via car exhaust can be toxic and should never be ingested in any way!
Purple dead nettle is found very early in the spring in moist, well-drained soil that gets a lot of sun. When left undisturbed, it can be a kind of ground cover as well, which means you’ll get great access to lots of flowers, leaves, and stems.
One of the most telling signs of this plant is the leaves, which are reddish-purple, much like the flowers. It’s often mistaken for henbit, but the most significant difference is that henbit doesn’t have the purple-tint to the leaves. Also, the stem is square since it’s a member of the mint family, so it’s easy to pick out from among the plants of its kind.
Harvesting Purple Dead Nettle
It’s easy to harvest this herb. Just snip off the stem, leaving about a half-inch sticking up out of the ground. Don’t forget to turn them upside down and tap or shake them gently to make sure you’re not also harvesting dirt and bugs! I use a large basket for foraging, but any container is sufficient, as long as it doesn’t have holes large enough for the flowers to fall through.
You can rinse your harvest in cool water before storing it, but make sure not to soak them for too long. Extended time in the water will turn them to mush fairly quickly. I put mine in a colander, submerge the colander in cold water, and leave it for about ten minutes. Then you can lift the whole thing out of the water and let it sit for a moment to drip dry.
Dehydrating for Later Use
Dehydrating is a great way to store these plants for later use, and it’s one of the main options I utilize for mine. Some people separate the leaves, stems, and flowers, or you can use the whole plant. Either way is acceptable and is primarily a personal preference.
Once you put the purple dead nettle on your dehydrator trays, dehydrate them for about four to six hours on low (about 90 degrees F). You can also use your oven for drying as well, placing the nettle on a baking sheet (no grease!) and setting the temperature to 175 degrees F, which takes about eight hours on average.
This time frame can vary because the humidity levels in your area can affect the results. Always check to make sure they aren’t still rubbery at the end of the drying time.
If you’re turning the herb into a powder, you’ll want them to be crisp but not burnt. The pieces should break up easily when you pinch them between your fingers.
To store your dehydrated gems, try to use an amber-colored glass container, preferably with an oxygen-absorbing desiccant pack. Here’s what I use…
Vivaplex 4 ounce amber bottles from Amazon.
Food-safe desiccant packets from Amazon.
Of course, you can always freeze dehydrated items as well. I have done that by placing the dried herbs in a freezer bag and then placing them in an area where it won’t be disturbed.
Utilizing the Fresh Harvest
There are plenty of recipes and ways to use your freshly harvested purple dead nettle if you prefer to use it that way. Of course, fresh herbs in tea are always a wonderful use, but you can also use them in various dishes that call for herbs and garnishes, such as eggs, potatoes, casseroles, and souffles. You might also want to consider using it to create a pesto for homemade noodles!
Here’s a link that lists a few recipes you might want to consider, especially if you have a bumper harvest of fresh nettle:
Also, a simple Google search for “purple dead nettle recipes” (with quotation marks included!) will give you some great ideas.
Thanks for joining me for the first issue of The Herbal series! If you found the information helpful, be sure to consider sharing it via email or social media, and don’t forget to meet me back here next Monday for another installment!
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