There are so many things to love about spring - the warm sunny days, the return of garage sales, watching the garden burst into life again. One thing that tends to put a damper on all this goodness is the sniffles and sneezes of spring allergies. Three out of the four members of my family deal with this issue (my younger son is the lucky one who's been spared). For years I have been looking for a natural treatment that was both affordable *and* effective. This year I think I've finally found it. A friend of mine had been urging me to try nettles for at least a couple of years now, and while I was a little slow to follow her advice, this year I made a point of brewing up some nettle tincture before the allergy season started. I wanted to use the tincture for a while to see how well it worked before sharing it here. It has been very effective for all three members of my family that use it, so now that I've gotten good results I feel compelled to pass along our experience. While it does take some time to brew up a tincture, you can have some ready to deal with those later-in-the-season allergies!
Nettles grow wild across North America and most of the rest of the world, too, so if you know how to identify them, you can gather them for free (always be sensible when foraging and never ingest anything unless you're certain you know what it is!) They are also available for purchase at many health food stores and online at Mountain Rose Herbs (yes, that is an affiliate link). Mountain Rose sells 4 ounces of organic nettle leaf (enough to roughly fill a quart Mason jar) for just $3.00.
Nettles are a plant that herbalists believe to have extensive health benefits; if you want to learn about their many other uses there is a good summary here. And remember that, even though they are a natural substance, nettles do have the potential to produce side effects and interact with other drugs and natural treatments, so always consult your healthcare practitioner before using them.
While you can make nettle leaf tea, it's far too "green" tasting for me! I decided to make a tincture instead, which is very simple to do. A tincture is defined as "a medicine made by dissolving a drug in alcohol". In this case, our "drug" is stinging nettle. When making an herbal tincture, you can use precise measurements, or use the "wing it" approach (I chose the latter). This is so simple to do it will only take you about 2 minutes - I got mine brewing while I was talking to my herb-loving friend on the phone!
The simplest way to make a nettle tincture:
- Fill a clean quart Mason jar half to 2/3 full of nettle leaves (I used about half of my 4 oz bag)
- Pour vodka over top until it just covers the nettles (make sure all the nettles are under the vodka)
- Cover and place in a dark, cool cupboard. Check it after a couple of days to make sure all the nettles are still below the vodka, and add a bit more vodka if needed.
- Let the mixture "brew" for about 4 weeks.
- Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and pour the mixture through the strainer into a clean glass measuring cup. Once all the liquid has been poured out, gather the cheesecloth around the nettles and squeeze to get out any remaining liquid.
If you have a glass dropper bottle (like the one pictured above that I got from Mountain Rose), this is the best thing to keep tinctures in for dosing them. The remaining tincture can be stored in a clean Mason jar placed back in that dark, cool cupboard.
The total cost for a batch of nettle tincture is roughly $15-20 dollars depending on what brand of vodka you're using (no need to get a pricey one for this purpose!) It will last for quite a while as you take it in small doses. I'm guessing this amount would probably get one person through most of allergy season (4-5 months or so). Compare that to the cost of over-the-counter or prescription medications (or even standard homeopathics or other natural alternatives). It's quite a bargain :)
I have been taking one dropperful of tincture 3 times a day diluted in a small glass of water, which seems to alleviate my allergy symptoms quite well (the effect seems to wear off after about 6 hours, which is what usually prompts me to take another dose!!)
Anyone else out there have experience using nettles to treat allergies? Or have you gotten any other health benefits from using them?