How to Boost Your Energy Levels - and Channel Shakespeare

Forget avocados and coconut oil. This superfood can detoxify, lower blood pressure, calm inflammations in the body, is high in iron and vitamin C – and it could be the base of your next no-guilt libation. Stinging, or common, nettle, as intimidating as its name might sound, is undoubtedly more friend than foe. What makes it really unique, apart from its qualities as a nutritional powerhouse, is its potential to make mass agriculture more sustainable.

This herbaceous, flowering plant is really just a weed. It grows all across North and South America, from Southern Alaska to Argentina, yet is only commercially cultivated in Europe, where nettle has been on the menu, mostly in pottage, since the sixteenth century. This hearty plant hasn’t just impacted European cuisine, as Shakespeare fans can attest - Hamlet lovingly references the green in Ophelia’s garland: “There with fantastic garlands did she come/ Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples.”

Nettle soup isn’t the only option for the modern consumer: Googling “stinging nettle recipes” yields 361,000 results in .5 seconds. Among “Off the Grid Living” sites and blogs about its homeopathic powers, the most popular recipes suggest grinding nettles raw to make pesto, boiling stalks with homemade pasta (they turn the noodles Kermit green!) and adding blanched leaves to bright spring salads. This hearty green is packed with vitamins and minerals: one serving contains at least three times the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, and it is high in calcium, iron, and chlorophyll, a compound thought to cleanse the liver and protect the skin.

If you’d rather drink your nutrients, the Lyme Bay Winery, a small and prestigious winery in Devon, England, recently made 3,000 liters of Nettle wine using 40 kilograms of the plant.

Nettle can also be dried, like hemp, and steeped to make tea. Why should this replace your daily cup of Earl Grey? It is a natural anti-inflammatory and detoxifier, and it can decrease redness and irritation of the skin, alleviate joint and menstrual pain, boost red blood cell production, and relieve fatigue and headache. And, its more sustainable than your cuppa’ tea.

Nettle grows voraciously in the wild and requires almost no additional input other than average rainfall and moderate sunlight. This makes it a super-sustainable crop - plus, it returns valuable nitrogen back to the soil it grows in, limiting the need for commercial fertilizers.

This gem of a plant is one of the best examples of scalable sustainability. Its qualities drive home our belief that in growing more low input-high output crops and increasing agricultural yield, we can decrease the prices of healthy foods and lessen our impact on the planet. To be clear, “scalably sustainable” is not the same as farm-to-table: local farms often grow crops that require specific watering or fertilizer regimens - that is, high financial and material input - to generate an expensive product that few shoppers can afford. Furthermore, growing at such a small scale might be beneficial for local consumers, but does not reach far enough to challenge healthy food insecurity in America at large. For example, we currently consume and grow tons of spinach when nettle has a similar taste, is more sustainable, and has better nutritional value. Spinach is super popular but finicky: it requires frequent waterings to maintain soil moisture, and it is susceptible to soil borne diseases and rotting. Fertilizer is a must, as are insect and disease management pesticides. Agricultural studies in California, where most of the spinach crop is grown, report using various pesticides to deter the onslaught of weeds, insecticides to fight off parasitic wasps and worms, and antifungals to prevent blights. If you were wondering, plants do absorb the chemicals sprayed on their leaves. Bon appetite.

Bottom line: If we were to grow nettle in the same quantities that we grow spinach, your next salad would be significantly cheaper - and more nutritious. Lowering prices on healthy foods would decrease socioeconomic nutrition gaps, and make for a healthier population. Further, we would conserve important resources like clean water (especially in California), and avoid the use of harsh chemicals that damage our bodies and our ecosystems. Food for thought.