Learn how to make nettle tea from foraged nettles or the unwanted nettle patch in your backyard.
While most people view nettles as a nuisance to be eradicated, these “weeds” are actually a surprising resource with numerous health benefits.
In this guide, you’ll learn the simple art of gathering, preparing, and brewing nettle leaves to create a refreshing cup of herbal tea.
What Are Nettles And Why Make Tea With Them?
Botanical name: Urtica dioica.
Common name: nettle, stinging nettle, nettle leaf, burn nettle.
Nettles are tall, flowering perennial weeds with tiny stinging hairs (trichomes) covering their serrated leaves.
Brushing against the leaves causes a mild skin irritation. But don’t worry, the nettles won’t sting you after you’ve steeped them in boiling water or dried the leaves.
Native to Europe, Asia, and North West Africa, stinging nettles have spread far and wide and you’ll find them growing all over North America.
I’ve got lots of nettles growing around my homestead, and besides making nettle tea, I use nettles as a spinach substitute, as a natural dye, as feed for my chickens and goats, as garden fertilizer, as a skin tonic, and for making string.
It’s such a versatile plant!
Why make tea with nettles?
Well, nettles are:
- full of vitamins and minerals
- high in antioxidants
- have a long history as a herbal medicine and tonic
- taste very similar to green tea
Besides the fact that nettles are packed with nutrients and health boosting properties, these much maligned weeds grow all by themselves.
As long as you harvest your patch of nettles with care, you’ll have a permanent “tea bush” producing for years and years.
And who can ignore the fact that nettles are free?
What Part Of The Stinging Nettle Is Used For Tea?
For the best tasting nettle tea use the leaves (and stems). Nettle leaf tea is also the easiest kind of nettle tea to make because you only need to pick the leaves.
Sometimes the roots of the stinging nettle plant are brewed for tea along with the leaves. But since nettle root produces a bitter flavor, we’re going to focus on making tea with nettle leaves.
Can You Make Nettle Tea With Fresh Leaves?
Absolutely. In fact, making nettle tea with fresh leaves produces a tea with a brighter flavor than tea made with dried nettle leaves.
I prefer to use fresh leaves when nettles are in season, but I’m happy to use dried leaves once the nettles die back for the winter.
What Does Nettle Tea Taste Like?
Nettle tea has a similar flavor to green tea. It’s earthy and green, mellow not bitter.
Drink the tea as it is or sweeten the brew with a generous teaspoon of honey.
You could sweeten with sugar or Stevia, but the subtle flavor of honey compliments the nettles so perfectly, you’ll miss out on a treat if you choose a different sweetener.
Want some ideas to liven up nettle tea? Watch this video.
How To Find And Identify Nettles
If you haven’t got a clump growing in your backyard or garden, you can find nettles at the edge of woodland and meadows, along river banks, along fence lines, and in overgrown areas.
Nettles prefer moist areas so you won’t find them in very dry places.
Young nettles leaves are a vibrant spring green when they first emerge and darken to a deeper green as they grow.
Plants eventually reach a height of 3 to 7 feet tall depending on how shaded they are. Nettles with access to more sunlight grow taller than understory nettles shaded by trees.
Nettle leaves are heart shaped, tapering to a point at the tip. Leaves have a serrated edge and vary in size from 1 to 6 inches long.
Stinging hairs on the stems and leaves break off when you touch them releasing a mild toxin which causes skin irritation.
Stinging nettles grow in clumps, regrowing year after year unless plants are damaged due to over-harvesting.
Avoid harvesting nettles growing at the edge of the road because those will accumulate toxins from vehicle exhaust.
When Is The Best Time To Forage For Stinging Nettles?
Forage for nettles in the springtime and early summer when nutrient and antioxidant levels are at their highest concentration.
Nettles also send out new growth towards the end of summer and will continue to grow until killed by winter frosts.
The best time of day to forage for stinging nettles is in the morning and early afternoon when nutrients have traveled from the roots into the leaves.
Once afternoon arrives, nutrients begin their journey back to the roots.
Plants have a circadian rhythm, just like us. Full of vibrancy in the morning, but getting tired as the day goes on.
You will, of course, pick nettles whenever it’s most convenient for you. And for a general nettle tea, harvest time isn’t crucial.
But if you specifically want to use nettle tea as a health tonic, picking leaves when they have the most nutrient density makes sense.
How To Gather Nettle Leaves
When you’re gathering nettle leaves, wear a pair of thick gardening gloves or rubber gloves, and long sleeves for your own protection. Nettles can sting through thinner material.
Take a pair of garden shears (secateurs) or scissors with you to cut the stems and leaves.
I find the easiest way to harvest nettles is to grab them with the pliers on a multi-tool.
To cut nettles with pliers, just grasp the stem with the pliers, then give a little twist and pull.
If you’re cutting nettles to use for fresh nettle tea, snip the stems just below the top 3 sets of leaves. These top leaves contain the most beneficial compounds.
If you’re harvesting a larger amount to make dried nettle tea leaves, you can cut stems lower down. Make sure you leave at least 3 inches of growth so the plant can recover.
Do You Need to Wash Nettle Leaves For Tea?
You don’t need to wash the leaves before you prepare nettle tea, but it’s a good idea. Rinsing the nettles in water will remove dust and any insects.
Shake the nettles to remove as much water as possible if you’re going to dry the leaves for storage.
If you’re making tea with fresh nettles, pop them straight into your pan.
Drying and Storing Nettle Leaves For Long Term Use
If you aren’t going to use your nettles right away for tea, you’ll need to dry them to remove the moisture content. If you don’t dry your nettles properly, you won’t be able to use them because of mold.
Air Drying Nettles
- Choose a well ventilated, dry area away from direct sunlight.
- Spread the nettle leaves out in a single layer on a clean, dry surface.
- Leave enough room between the stems to ensure good airflow.
- Allow nettles to dry for one to two weeks until they become crisp.
- Another way to air dry nettles is to tie them up in small bunches and hang them from a drying rack or line.
- Drying time will vary depending on the humidity levels and temperature.
Oven drying is a faster way to dry nettle leaves.
- Preheat your oven to its lowest temperature setting – around 100 to 150 F or 38 to 65 C.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone sheet, then spread the nettles in a single layer.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven. Leave the door open a few inches to allow moisture to escape.
- Keep an eye on the leaves so they don’t burn or dry out too much.
- The drying process should take one to two hours.
Crushing and Storing Nettles
Once the nettles are completely dry you can handle them without being stung.
Gently crush the nettles with your fingers, then transfer to a clean, dry, airtight container.
If you’re using a plastic bag, it should have a good seal like a ZipLock bag. Press on the bag to remove as much air as possible as you seal it closed.
Store your dried nettle leaves in a cool place away from direct sunlight – inside a cupboard is an ideal spot.
For optimal flavor and potency, use nettle leaf tea within 18 months.
How to Make Nettle Tea With Fresh Nettles
Nettle tea is easy to make. When you’re making tea with freshly harvested nettles, there’s no need to remove the leaves from the stems.
- 1 cup of loosely packed fresh nettles for every two cups of water.
- Cut the nettles up so they fit inside your pan
- Add water
- Bring to a boil
- Turn down to a simmer for 3 to 4 minutes*
- Strain the nettles out and pour your tea into a cup
- Add your preferred sweetener to taste
*Simmer for longer if you want a more intense flavor.
How To Make Nettle Tea With Dried Nettles
- 1 teaspoon of dried nettle leaves
- 1 cup of water
- Bring your water to a boil then add the dried nettle leaf
- Leave to steep for 5 to 10 minutes
- Pour the tea through a strainer to remove the tea leaves
- Sweeten to taste
When making any type of tea with loose tea leaves, it’s handy to use a tea ball when you’re making tea for one, or an infusion tea pot if you’re making enough to share.
How To Make Nettle Tea In A Rice Cooker
I know this sounds weird, but a rice cooker is perfect for making nettle tea.
All you need to do is place your nettles and water into the pan, then pop the lid on and press the button.
The rice cooker automatically switches over to the keep warm setting as soon as the water boils, allowing the nettles to steep until you’re ready to pour the tea.
It’s less hassle than waiting for a pan on the stove to boil.
Nettle Tea Recipe Variations
If you want to add a twist to your nettle tea, try brewing one of these delicious recipes.
Honey Nettle Tea
Simply stir a generous dollop of honey into your tea once it’s brewed.
Steep a handful of fresh mint or a teaspoon of dried mint along with the nettles when you brew your tea.
Mint is a great digestive aid. This nettle tea variation not only tastes delicious, it’s perfect for drinking after a heavy meal.
This version of nettle tea is ideal for a hot summer’s day
- Brew a batch of nettle tea, strain the leaves, and leave it to cool down
- Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
- Stir in a generous spoonful of honey
- Serve over ice
Ginger adds a spicy warmth to nettle tea. This version also benefits from a squeeze of lemon juice and a spoon of honey. Great for coughs and sore throats.
To make this infusion:
- Add a slice of fresh root ginger to the pan with your nettle leaves and bring to a boil
- Allow the tea to steep for 5 to 10 minutes
- Strain and add honey and lemon if desired
For a stronger ginger flavor, chop the ginger root into smaller pieces before you add it to the pan. Small pieces infuse more easily.
Nettle-Orange Zest Fusion
This citrusy nettle tea is a great way to get some use out of orange peel. I think it’s particularly nice over the winter months and festive period, when the simmering orange peel adds a cheerful aroma to your kitchen.
To make this version:
- Cut a piece of orange peel into thin strips
- Add the peel to your pan along with the nettles and water
- Bring to a boil
- Steep for 5 minutes
- Strain and enjoy!
How To Make Nettle Tea As A Herbal Tonic
So far we’ve looked at how to brew a simple nettle infusion. A nettle health tonic is a stronger infusion which needs to steep for several hours instead of 5 to 10 minutes.
- 1 ounce of dried nettle leaf
- 1 quart of water
- A mason jar or several smaller jars with lids
- Pour the boiling water into the mason jar and add the nettle leaf
- Leave to steep for at least 4 hours
- Strain, then refrigerate
- Use within 2 days
Who Shouldn’t Drink Nettle Tea?
Are there any risks with drinking nettle tea?
For most people, nettle tea is beneficial and perfectly safe to drink.
But if you’ve got any health conditions and are worried about possible side effects or interactions with your medication, get some advice from a herbal practitioner or your doctor.
Here are some potential issues you could run into depending on your personal situation.
Allergic reactions: If you’re prone to allergies, you might be sensitive to nettles (this is rare, though). And if you have a known allergy to plants in the Urticaceae family, you shouldn’t drink nettle tea.
Interactions with medications: Nettle tea has a mild diuretic effect. If you’re taking blood thinners, medication for high blood pressure, or diabetes, seek medical advice to find out if this will be an issue for you.
Kidney conditions: Once again, nettle’s mild diuretic effect could cause increased urination. This may be a problem for you if you have a history of kidney stones or kidney disease.
Thanks for reading this guide. Now you know how to make nettle tea, you’ll be able to make your own free, healthy, herbal tea whenever you want.