Nettle Power

I wanted to share this old article I wrote about the health benefits of nettle:

Nettle: Milarepa’s Special Medicine

In the springtime, I try eating Nettles at least once a day each week. Sometimes, I even try and do a nettle “fast” for multiple days, consuming almost nothing but nettles and nettle broth. Their vibrant green vitality is welcome after the cold, damp, dark Northwest winter. Even the sting of their almost imperceptible needles has a zest that helps waken us to Spring.

Nettles are one of my favorite plants, and one of the few plants that can really be considered both a food and a medicine. I am always amazed that a plant that has a very powerful and painful sting can be so useful. Many students I’ve worked with over the years begin by being quite wary of Stinging Nettles, and then end up quite enamored with them.

For me, I think it was the story about Milarepa, Tibet’s famous wild yogi that got me hooked. Apparently, during his sojourn in the wilderness Milarepa ate nothing but Nettle for years. Really. There are stories of hunters coming upon him and demanding food, and Milarepa responded by preparing them some nettles. When they demanded real food, food that could keep someone alive in the bitter cold of the mountains where Milarepa was staying, he simply gave them more nettles. It was the only thing that sustained him through all the seasons on the mountains! Eventually, Milarepa developed many siddhis from his practice, and his skin turned a vibrant color with hints of green. His hair also grew long, lustrous, and profuse. At least part of this accomplishment was considered related to his diet of nettles!

There is a strong European tradition of nettle consumption as well. There is a poem from Scotland extolling the virtues of Nettles:

If they would drink nettles in March

And eat mugwort in May