Harvest season for our native Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) begins in the spring time with the new shoots usually emerging mid-March here on Southern Vancouver Island in the coastal Pacific Northwest of Canada. The new Nettle shoots are some of the first plants to emerge from the cool damp earth, breaking the silence of winter and initiating us into the new season at Spring Equinox. The Nettle greens are harvested for several weeks, often into May, as a nutrient dense wild food and amazing medicine for allergies, arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions.
We often think of Nettle season ending in late spring once the plants begin to open their tiny tassel-like flowers, but a second, and different type of bountiful harvest awaits mid-summer. As the plants evolve through the growing season they shoot further upward on tough fibrous stems, the flowers slowly ripening to seed. These strong fibres were traditionally made into cordage. In summer you will find them laden with seed clusters, arching downward with the weight of their abundance.
The seeds of Nettle are a lesser-known harvest, compared with that of the spring Nettle greens, but they are a treasure to behold. August is the perfect time to harvest the unripe green seeds of Stinging Nettle here in the PNW. Adaptogenic and nutritive, increasing energy and vitality, Nettle Seed fits the true definition of a super-food. The seeds are both a food and a medicine, and are wonderfully invigorating and restorative to the body.
I wrote about spring Nettle earlier this year in my blog post Ringing (…or Stinging) in the Spring with Nettle. Nettle has long been one of my favourite spring allies, emerging under the Mars-ruled sign of Aries, the new Nettle shoots embody the pioneering energy needed to reinvigorate us and break us free from winter time dormancy. They wake us up with their sting, clear our bodies of dampness and stagnation, and fuel us with their nutrition, preparing us in spirit like a warrior before a battle (or like a farmer off to the fields in spring.)
With the formation of the seed, the Nettles evolve this warrior-spirit energy to the next octave, one that is much more grounded and restorative, an energy of regal reverence. Ripening to harvest under the Sun-ruled sign of Leo, Nettle Seeds are like mana for the proud warrior after battle. The young spring Nettle is now grown in maturity, offering its wisdom through abundance via the seed.
Nettle Seed Medicine
Nettle leaf is well known as a bladder and kidney tonic, acting as a diuretic and tonifying the tissues of the urinary tract. The seeds of Nettle are also useful for the kidneys, but the medicine, now more mature, moves up further into the adrenals (which sit above the kidneys). Through its support of the adrenal glands, Nettle seed acts as a helpful adaptogen to fortify us through acute periods of stress, and helps revitalize and restore us after such periods.
Nettle seed is also known as an aphrodisiac, and this property may also be an effect of its nourishing action on the adrenals. The increase in vitality and energy we feel when we take Nettle Seed extracts can also fuel a passion and presence in our lives and bodies, rekindling the fire inside, that was perhaps diminished through stress, trauma, or overwork.
Nettle is wonderfully supportive and balancing to the endocrine system in general, not only an adrenal tonic, Nettle seed is also known to improve thyroid function in cases of under active thyroid (hypothyroidism). Nettle seed can also be very helpful for balancing reproductive hormones and smoothing out premenstrual symptoms.
Nettle Seed is full of mucilage, so unlike the leaf preparations which are intensely drying, the seeds are moistening and soothing to the constitution. Where Nettle leaf is wonderful for cooling down and drying out Pitta type constitutions, the seed is energetically moist and neutral making it suitable for Vata type constitutions. Nettle seeds ability to improve appetite and sleep, and nourish and add moisture to the body are all wonderful for Vata balancing.
Grounding and energizing, Nettle seed can be used as a coffee substitute for those trying to kick the coffee habit, or looking for something to use in their morning beverage that was grown a little closer to home. As a bonus, its stimulating action is unlikely to produce anxiousness in sensitive individuals, so if you desire a little pick me up and even smelling coffee gives you heart palpations, Nettle seed could be a good alternative ;)
Nettle Seed Nutrition
The nutrition of the Nettle plants is really optimized and concentrated with the formation of the seed. The seeds have much of the same nutritional content beloved in the spring shoots, they are rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and silicon, but also contain fatty acids and vitamin E not found in the leaf. The fatty acids and oil-soluble vitamins are especially important for the health of the skin and nervous system.
The fresh unripe green Nettle seeds have a lovely crunchy texture, and a nutty and slightly salty taste, that is quick addictive. Once you start munching on them it can be hard to stop. They can be added in place of hemp hearts, or in a similar manner, to most dishes. Try sprinkling them on salads, in granola, on yogurt, in soups, in baking…really the culinary possibilities are endless.
A Nettle salt can be made by grinding the dried seeds with sea salt. This is an easy way to get your nettle nutrition in on a daily basis. You can also use Nettle seed in place of, or in combination with sesame seeds, in your homemade herbal gomashio recipe.
Harvesting & Medicine Making
Harvesting can be done both in the unripe green stage or when the seeds are fully mature and brown. My personal preference is to harvest any seeds for medicinal use when they are in the green stage. I’ve been gathering seeds both for medicine and for planting for many years and through my experience have noticed that the unripe green stage of seeds generally contain more oils, aromatics, alkaloids and other constituents (think Milky Oat in milky stage); so this stage seems best to me for medicine making. Whereas the brown, dry, or fully ripe stage is essential to wait for if you are harvesting viable seeds for planting.
The unripe green Nettle seeds are usually ready to harvest for medicinal use through the month of August, but may be ready as early as late July. The harvest window will vary depending on where the plants are growing; the location and microclimate, how much sun and water they are getting. Nettle seeds start maturing into the brown viable stage in the last week of August and can be harvested at this stage through the fall until the rains either cause them to fall off the stalks or they begin to mold with the moisture.
The mature Nettle plants of summer have lost much of their sting, so can often be handled without gloves. But for those who are inexperienced to the fierce little stings of spring Nettle and how they compare to the gentle little tingles of summer Nettle, you may wish to wear gloves to harvest the seeds until you become accustomed. Each seed cluster can be gathered individually or the entire upper portion of the stem stripped and the leaves filtered out during processing.
To make tincture, the fresh seed clusters can be processed in a blender to break them down and help them extract into the alcohol a bit better. Then the seeds are placed in a glass jar and covered with alcohol (65-75% is recommended), sealed and allowed to steep for 4 weeks. After this time the seeds are strained out, having lent all their medicine to the alcohol, and can be added to enrich your compost bin.
The Nettle seed clusters may be dried whole, no need to remove the tiny stems that are holding the seed groupings together. To make a tea, they are best brewed into a decoction by gently simmering 1-2 tbsps in 250mls water for 15-20mins, then strained. An even longer infusion will give you a more mineral rich extract.
Nettle seeds store very well, they will keep their medicinal and nutritional benefits for up to two years if stored in an airtight container out of direct light. For culinary use you’ll need to rub the seeds through a strainer to remove the tiny stems which are not palatable due to their fibrousness.
Nettle Seed Cracker Recipe
These super yummy and nutrient-dense seed crackers are vegan and gluten free! They can be eaten with a variety of your favourite dips, jam and cheese, or if you still have enough nettle seed in your pantry to make them come spring, you can eat them with Nettle pesto! Check out our Nettle Pesto recipe here.
1/4 cup Nettle Seed (fresh or dried, stems removed)
1/4 cup Chia Seed
1/4 cup whole Flax Seeds
1/2 cup raw Sunflower Seed
1/2 cup raw Pumpkin Seed
1 cup ground Flax Seeds
2 tbsps of Coconut Oil
salt to taste (about 1/2 tsp)
Enough water to bind (about 1/2 cup)
Large kitchen knife
Blend sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a food processor until coarsely broken up. Combine with other seeds and mix well. Add softened coconut oil and salt and mix to combine (you may need to get in there and your hands dirty here). Other herbs or seasonings of your choice may also be added in at this stage. Add enough water to the mixture until it starts to bind together, the cracker mixture should be thick and mouldable like cookie dough rather than runny.
The cracker mixture can then be rolled out between two sheets of parchment paper. I like to roll the cracker dough out as thinly as possible. This makes for a lovely crispy texture. Play around with the thickness and see what works best for you.
Once rolled, the top parchment paper can be removed, and the crackers, with the bottom parchment paper still in place, placed on a cookie sheet. The crackers can be scored with the back of a large kitchen knife to help them break into clean pieces once cooked.
Bake at 200C for about 1.5-2hrs, checking often. Once the crackers are dry to the touch and break apart easily, you will know they are done. Once cooled they can be broken apart along the score lines and stored in an airtight container for up to one week. Enjoy!