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Evolution of Nettle

Charles Darwin

12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882 

Today is the anniversary of the death of Charles Darwin, English naturalist, geologist and biologist. Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution by natural selection became the foundation of modern evolutionary studies.  A pleasant country gentleman, Darwin at first shocked religious Victorian society by suggesting that animals and humans shared a common ancestry.  His theory contradicted the Book of Genesis. He realised that species adapt to their environments.

By the stinging hairs, nettle protects itself from grazing animals. Scientists discovered the changed morphological characteristics of the Japanese nettle (Urtica thunbergiana), due to heavy browsing by sika deer. In Nara Park, Japan, where a large population of sika deer has been maintained for more than 1,200 years, wild nettles exhibited smaller leaf area, 11–223 times more stinging hairs per leaf, and 58–630-times higher stinging hair densities than those of other areas where there was no evidence of sika deer browsing. 

Nettle adapts to the environment and grazing damage by growing more stinging weapons as a protection. It just takes a “little” time.

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Sting the Microbes with Nettle!

Have you ever experienced side effects of a synthetic drug? Sometimes the result of taking drugs causes more problems in our body than we had in the first place. Unfortunately, it can happen that our system becomes resistant to the active ingredient of a widely appreciated drug. 

Nowadays increasing attention is being paid to herbs. One of the reasons is to avoid the undesirable side effects of synthetic drugs. This is the reason why the analysis of the antimicrobial activities of medicinal plants are increasingly in the focus of scientific experiments as well. 

One of the best-known medicinal plants is nettle (Urtica dioica). It is most commonly utilised for medical purposes, with a focus on its leaves and roots. Nettle tea consumption is widespread in folk medicine for treating diabetes, allergies, abdominal pain, benign prostatic hyperplasia, rheumatoid arthritis and treatment of infections.

Nettle has several constituents which play a major role in antibacterial effects such as neophytadiene, carboxylic acids, esters, alkaloids, phenols,  flavonoids,  tannins  and  saponins.

Several research results are available about the antimicrobial impact of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). The papers documented a positive effect of nettle for more than 30 Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacterias, yeasts and fungis.

Nettle root, leaf and stem analyses showed that water extracts have a greater antibacterial effect compared to ethanol extract. Stem extracts proved to be the least active. The ethanol extract of nettle seed has the greatest effect against Gram-positive bacteria; leaf extract against Gram-negative bacteria; plant oil against fungi while the water extract practically had an antimicrobial activity against all bacteria except for Pseudomonas.

Many infectious diseases have been known to be treated with herbal remedies throughout the history of mankind. Researchers are increasingly turning their attention to folk medicine, looking for new leads to develop better drugs against microbial infections. Nettle is predicted to have a promising future against bacterial and fungal diseases.

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7th April – World Health Day

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” ~ WHO

World Health Day is a global health awareness day celebrated every year on 7 April, under the auspices of the WHO (World Health Organization). The WHO supports traditional healing to keep the population healthy. Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014–2023 was developed. The strategy aims to support Member States in developing proactive policies and implementing action plans that will strengthen the role traditional medicine plays.

The basics of traditional medicine all around the world are herbs. Today, let’s pay attention to nature’s healing products! Medicinal plants are used throughout history, but somehow we forgot about them and replaced natural remedies with synthetic, human-made medicines that do not always show the expected results. Modern studies are rediscovering these forgotten plants and analysing their useful components that support our health.

Nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of the most widely applicable plants in the materia medica. It appears in Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as in Ayurveda and traditional European folk medicines. Nettle has been used as food, medicine, clothing, and in ceremonial practice by Native Americans. The herb strengthens and supports the whole body. Nettle is used as a spring tonic and general detoxifying remedy. 

There are many beneficial compounds in nettle. The leaf is a great source of chlorophyll, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K and other nutrients. The seed contains a component of lecithin vital to liver function and the developing baby’s brain, called choline. Nettle root contains sterols (β-sitosterol), lignans, secoisolariciresinols and polysaccharide-proteins which makes this herb efficient against prostate problems. Nettle has several constituents which play a major role in antibacterial effects such as neophytadiene, carboxylic acids, esters, alkaloids, phenols,  flavonoids,  tannins  and  saponins. 

Modern science has proved that nettle deserves special attention in our lives in restoring and maintaining health.

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Dye your Easter Egg with Nettle :)

Easter is upon us, so it’s time to prepare the eggs. The practise of decorating eggshells is quite ancient and appears in many nations’ traditions somehow. In Europe we colour chicken eggs and the latest finds show that ostrich eggs have a long history of being used as art in South Africa. People were carving symbolic patterns into these eggs as early as 60,000 years ago.

There are a lot of traditions of using eggs as a decoration, a nice gift or a game you can play with your kids. Boiled eggs or empty egg shells, it’s up to you which one you prefer to decorate.

Making anything yourself is always more fun than buying it in a supermarket. This year, go wild (literally) and make Easter natural dyes with foraged plants that you find in the wild or in your garden. The coloured eggs you’ll get won’t be as bright as when you use chemical dyes but the colouring part is a great kitchen science experiment. Forget the chemical tablets, use onion, dandelion, tree bark, beetroot, red cabbage or nettle to achieve lovely natural results with plants.

Here is an example how to dye boiled eggs with nettle:

Making the botanical pattern
  1. Use a bunch of freshly picked nettle (chopped) or a cup of dried nettle, place them in a pot.
  2. Double the amount of water to plant material.
  3. Bring to a boil covered, then lower the heat and simmer covered for about 5 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat and let it cool, still covered.
  5. Strain.
  6. If you’d like to make botanical patterns on your eggs, pick small leaves (clover, yarrow leaves, tiny ferns), flowers (chickweed), or herbs (cilantro, parsley) in your garden. Use nylon stockings that should be wrapped around the egg to keep the plants in place. Tie a string around the base to secure the stocking.
  7. Cook the eggs directly in the nettle tea (white eggs will be easier to colour but it’s your choice).
  8. Strain and let them dry.
Nettle green Easter eggs

Dying with stinging nettle guarantees vibrant green eggs.

When the eggs are dry, remove the nylon stockings. You can make these shiny by putting oil on a paper towel and rubbing the eggs with it.

Egg-cellent green eggs!

Bright blue egg colored with red cabbage