As a child, I remember fearing the prickles of these wild and rampant weeds. Little did I know that the sting of this plant was protecting a delicious green vegetable, a healing herb and a wonderful vegan-organic fertilizer.
Nettles (Urtica dioica), are high in many minerals, flavonoids, essential amino acids, proteins and vitamins, including chlorophyll, nitrogen, iron, vitamins A, B1, B5, C, D, E and K, iron, potassium, copper, zinc, magnesium, calcium and more. All of these beneficial plant-based compounds combine to create a natural tonic and immune builder for both your body and the garden.
Nettles have traditionally been used to treat allergies and respiratory related illness, reduce inflammation, cleanse the blood, relieve pain, stop hair loss, lower blood pressure, heal wounds, stimulate digestion, relieve anemia, balance blood sugar/hormone levels and the list goes on and on. They are a powerful plant that is great to have around the house, but don’t worry – I’m not suggesting planting this weed in your garden.
Weeds are simply plants that have adapted to self-seed and propagate rampantly, basically any plant that is difficult to control. So stinging nettles are best harvested wild, or planted in a large pot far, far, far away from your garden.
Thankfully, they are abundant in many parts of the world. So most likely, all you’ll have to do is go for a spring walk with your nettle-picking gear in hand, or pop down to the natural health food store and buy the dried leaves in tea bag or bulk form.
Wondering how you brew a cup of tea or a veganic fertilizer from this pesky powerhouse?
If you’re making a tea for yourself, the ratio is usually one teaspoon per one cup of water, although you can make a stronger brew once your body adapts to this tonic. The leaves need to steep for at least ten minutes to deactivate the stingers or you might have a bit of a tingly mouth. I’ve enjoyed this tea hundreds of times with no problem though.
Most health food stores also carry nettles in tincture and capsule form depending on what you are using this plant for. Consult a naturopath for any contraindications that may apply to any condition you may have or medications you are taking.
Tip: Another way to ingest nettles is in a wonderful soup or as steamed greens! They have been eaten in these forms for hundreds of years. Don’t worry if you’re stumped on how to start cooking with nettles – there are a myriad of recipes online to fuel your creative culinary pursuits.
So, we’re on to how to make your own organic fertilizer out of nettles. I’ve provided two methods: an advanced method, which is easy, but requires a bit of wait time, and a quick method for those in a hurry.
How to make your own nettle fertilizer:
It is best to pick nettles around springtime when they are in their peak growing season. They can be picked and used later in the year as well, but will become more bitter as the summer goes on. As I mentioned, you can purchase dried nettles in many health food stores, but the fresher the nettle the better. If you are going to wild craft your crop remember to wear thick gardening gloves, pants and a long sleeved shirt. You can clip the light green growth off the top of the nettles into a pail without even touching them, but be careful where you harvest from to insure that the plants that have not been sprayed with chemicals or are near a busy road.
1. Fill up a bucket, large jar, or other container with the leaves/stems. If you are using dried nettles you will have to approximate this amount.
2. Crush or cut the leaves and stems. After this step, some people put a large stone on top of the crushed/cut leaves to help hold them down.
2. Pour water over the leaves and stems until they are immersed. Fill your container approximately ¾ full, but no more, as foam will form on top of the mixture over time. Make sure to use non-chlorinated water, optimally from a rain barrel. Set your mixture in a warm area, but make sure it isn’t baking in the sun. If you have used dried herbs, check the water level after it sits for a day and add more water to cover the leaves if needed.
3. Leave the mixture to sit for one to three weeks. (This mixture will start to smell, so keep it away from the neighbors and your house). Letting it sit allows the good bugs to start growing in the mix and turbo charging the nettles’ nutrients. The fertilizer tea is ready when the fermentation has ceased. Stir the mixture every couple of days until there are no more bubbles. You might want to plug your nose while you do this.
4. Strain out the herbs and fill a container with your concoction. The mixture should be diluted – approximately one part liquid to ten parts water for watering your plants and 1:20 for direct foliage application. This mixture is also great for activating your compost, and undiluted it can also be used as an organic herbicide. When sprayed undiluted directly on actively growing weeds it will kill off the weeds and fertilize the ground at the same time.
Caution: Because the leaves have not been boiled, the prickles can still be active, so be careful when handling the tea or pulp.
1. Wild craft or buy some dried nettles from your local health food store, as mentioned in the advanced directions.
2. Steep one ounce of dried nettles in one cup of boiling water for anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour.
3. Strain the leaves/stems out of the tea.
4. Dilute your brew 1:10 and use immediately.
Tip: After you strain the tea, put the leftover pulp into your compost to give it a nice boost.
Cautions: Not every fertilizer works for every plant. Some plants, such as tomatoes and roses have a difficult time with the high level of iron in nettles. This mixture is best for leafy plants and heavy feeders. When in doubt, start slowly with low concentrations and move from there as the plant responds.
The quick method is going to give you a subtler effect, but it will still feed your plants. And if you’re brewing some tea for your garden you might as well brew a bit for yourself (much more diluted of course) and enjoy a cup for good health.
If you want to get super crafty you can also try adding these herbs to your nettle mix or creating a separate fertilizer made from:
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale): High in magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense): High in silica, which is wonderful for strong bodies and plants.
Best of luck learning about and using these amazing weeds to your advantage!