By: Mirza Ravhan
Amazing but under-rated
There are herbs and herbs, some over-hyped and some under-rated! Undoubtedly, an amazing herb, due to its medicinal properties, Nettle, somehow continues to be one of the most under-rated herbs of the Kashmir valley. While the rest of the world has woken up to its benefits, the heaven on earth is still clueless about its use and cultivation as a backyard herb.
Locally known as “soi”, nettle is found abundantly in the valley. It grows almost everywhere irrespective of the conditions.
When in trouble stick to nettle is a term that can literally be applied in practice because of the urtication (lashing with nettle) benefits of this herbaceous plant as seen in people suffering from rheumatism or joint pain. As a treatment, the nettle is used to sting the area and the resultant rash formation increases the blood supply to the affected area which in turn relieves the joint pain.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) also referred to as stinging nettle or common nettle belongs to the family Urticaceae. It is a single stalked perennial which may form clusters as a result of which it appears bushy. It grows up to 5ft tall in peak summertime. Despite its sting, nettle is still considered as wonderfully effective, safe and edible medicinal plant.
In terms of its composition nettle is a hub of nutrients and vitamins. Vitamin K, calcium, formic acid, iron, beta- carotene, flavonoids, protein, potassium, zinc and acetylcholine are among the key constituents of this plant.
Cultural and historical significance
Muhammad Sayed, a retired state government functionary, originally from the Midtown Srinagar, recalling his childhood days talked about his time as a kid ‘when nettle was used abundantly in Kashmir’. Lo and behold! Not in the kitchen or the pharmacy but ‘in the classrooms, in maktabs and schools by the worthy teachers’. “Yes”, says he. “Those were the days; teachers had found an effective but horrifying way of using nettle. Using this herb, they would teach a lesson to the naughty and the non compliant students. The victims would return home with their hands and arms full of rashes and inflammations.” Clay was then applied to the affected areas which relieved the symptoms to some extent. “I too had some encounters with soi”, he revealed.
Nettle lead to school dropouts in the bygone era. Sayed was awestruck when this writer informed him that nettle can be used as a cure for many ailments and that we can have a tea of nettle leaves. “Unbelievable, I could have never imagined it”, he declares.
Nettle has been one of the most extensively used herbs in the ancient times. The Greeks and the Romans were the first ones to discover its medicinal use, they cultivated acres of this herbaceous plant and it is reported that they cultivated it more than any other plant.
The practice of urtication is basically an old roman practice to cure or relieve joint and muscle pain due to arthritis or swelling. This way of treatment is still in vogue in the modern herbal healthcare facilities and can be as effective as the drugs used for the pain without a long list of side effects from the drug. Apart from its medicinal properties, nettle was also used as cloth since the Bronze Age and during the World War I by the Germans.
Cultivate with caution
Native to Asia and Europe, the stinging herb grows easily from seeds but it should be planted in moist soil. In the wild nettle is found in places close to water such as stream banks or near ponds. If we mimic these conditions in the garden it will grow very well. Although care is to be taken to cultivate it with caution within an earmarked area .Otherwise, it can become the gardener’s worst nightmare due to its ability to spread unhindered like a wildfire. It should be planted judiciously.
Nettle is used as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-infectious and also as a cure for hypertension, and heart ailments besides enlargement of prostrate in men, arthritis and rheumatism.
Nettle is not just a medicine only as it has great nutritive value as well. Some term it as ‘super food’. It contains fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K and also considerable quantity of water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and certain B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, and B9) besides calcium, iron, manganese, and potassium.
Some herbalists found its use as a substitute for spinach. Interestingly, its iron content exceeds that of the spinach. However, the leaves have to be first boiled in order to destroy the formic acid to make it edible.
Regarded as a powerful tonic containing important vitamins and minerals, Nettle tea is a new discovery made by the herbalists. Fresh young leaves of nettle are plucked, dried and subsequently used to make tea. Nettle tea is used to fortify and build the energy. This tonic has anti inflammatory, styptic, trophorestorative, and blood building properties.
Nettle is very high in nitrogen and gardeners have found ways to utilize this property of the plant and use it as an alternative fertilizer. We can make it simply in our homes. Take a bucket full of nettle leaves with water and set it aside to brew for 1-3 weeks. The resulting tea is our manure and we can use to water the plants in our gardens.
Nettle is not dangerous in the sense it’s perceived at popular level in the valley, it’s safe. There is need to overcome the fear of nettle and to have a balanced view of its uses and risks.
The open contact with the nettle causes the redness, the itching but it should not be the cause of ignoring many assets of the plant. Pertinent to mention that cooking and drying takes away the stingers of the nettle. Somehow, one should learn how to touch nettle without stinging oneself!
The popular Kashmiri sayings like ‘Anim Soe, Vavim Soe, Lajim Soe’, (Brought it ,sowed it, got stung by it!), need to be revisited and revised in view of the new discoveries regarding nettle which is coming into prominence.
It’s high time to enhance our understanding of the world we are part of.
There is more than meets the eye.
Wish we know more and appreciate more!
(A regular contributor, Mirza Ravhan writes on issues related to science and society. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)