Nettles: Fire, Mars, & Aries
“Fire is our consciousness, the earth is our body, the air is our mind, and the water is our spirit”
- Tyler Penor
There’s a common misconception about the relationship between plants and planets, one that disregards the shared connection between the two: a primordial pattern seen within all living beings and that begins with the elements. Fire, earth, air, and water are the fundamental building blocks which create life itself. They are the ancients long before the periodical table of elements and will continue to be here until the end of time. These elements exist not only in the world around us - the plants, the planets, and the animals - but within us as well.
Fire has been watching over us since the dawn of time - a key element in the creation of the earth as well as life itself. It shows itself through the Sun, the center of our solar system and what supports life here on Earth. Without fire, there would only be darkness, both metaphorically and physically. Fire teaches us how to believe in ourselves, how to work with the emotions of passion and anger, and how to express our heart’s deepest desires.
Quite simply, fire is a reflection of our own hearts. We all know the phrases ‘light my fire’ or ‘the fire that burns in my heart’. It lives within all of us. Fire is what gives us consciousness and awareness, and is physically represented as our circulatory and digestive systems and mental capacity. Without fire, we do not exist.
With April being the beginning of Spring, a new zodiacal cycle starting in Aries, and nature’s true new year, the archetype of fire is beginning to emerge after the winter’s slumber rising up from the cold damp earth. Plants are sprouting from the earth’s floor, new ideas and cycles are coming to awareness, and quite literally we are beginning to plant seeds.
Plants tend to emerge during the season in which they have a relationship with. In the spring, you’ll see cleavers, nettles, chickweed, and dandelions all come forth to nourish us and the earth after a long winter. And if you look closely, you’ll see more than just a plant coming to life, but a representation of an archetypal force that exists within all of us.
Folk names: stinging nettle, nettle
Parts used: entire plant - leaves, seeds, roots, and stalks
Habitat: shaded, damp, and disturbed habitats throughout the world
Planet & Sign: mars & aries
Tastes: salty and sweet
Actions: diuretic, astringent, nutritive tonic, alterative
Affinities: kidneys and urinary tract, blood, lymphatic and cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, uterus, skin, prostate and adrenal glands, and liver
Energetics: cooling, drying, and stimulating
Nettle (Urtica dioica), a classic European plant now prevalent here in the United States, has been used since ancient times throughout the world as a key source of food, medicine, and fiber. This plant has traveled extensively, and cloth made from the fibers of its stalks have been found in various parts of the world tracing back thousands of years. The Nazi uniforms of WWII were actually made from Nettle fibers and can still be found today in relatively good shape.
As a food, nettle provides the highest source of plant protein in the forest. It is rich in vitamins and minerals including iron, selenium, magnesium, chlorophyll, calcium, silica, and vitamins A, C, E, and K. Nettles also contain the chemicals formic acid, histamine, and acetylcholine which work together to create the ‘sting’ nettles are most famous for. Formic acid contained within the plant is not to be confused for the uric acid that nettles neutralize within the body (a key element in treating gout, a form of arthritis caused by crystallized formations of uric acid within the joints).
The tastes of a plant are always key indicators to its actions. The salty taste of nettles indicates it’s high mineral content, while it’s subtle sweet undertone refers to this plant’s ability to nourish the tissues and strengthen the overall health of one’s constitution. I’ve seen nettles referred to as having a bitter taste, but I honestly can’t agree. Nettles make delicious additions (or serve as the star of the show) to soups and stews, pestos, teas, and even cookies! Nettle infused apple cider vinegar is a wonderful way to extract the minerals contained within the plant and goes really nicely in bone broths and sautéed greens.
Most commonly the leaves are used as food and medicine and are harvested around the Aries season (late March - April). Nettle leaves are notable for nourishing and tonifying the tissues as well as supporting bones and joints through its nutritive action, cleansing the blood and lymph through its alterative action, and supporting the kidneys and urinary tract through its diuretic action. I like to refer to nettle leaves when a cleansing action is needed in adjunction to rebuilding a weak, undernourished constitution.
Folks with indications for nettles would include those recovering from acute illnesses; those suffering from chronic skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis; those who have gout or arthritic joint conditions, seasonal allergies, or lax mucous membranes; and any folks who are overall undernourished, overworked, and devoid of nutrients from a well balanced diet (aka, most of us).
Specific to women, nettles are good medicine in all stages of womanhood from childhood to motherhood to menopause. In pregnancy, nettle leaves are used to nourish and tonify the uterus as well as providing nutrients for the mother and baby. This nourishment extends into postpartum and provides high amounts of iron to support blood loss in menstruation and childbirth as well as nourishment for the woman suffering from anemia (iron deficiency) and chronic fatigue. Also referring to its paradox, nettle - though usually drying - can increase breastmilk production during lactation.
Psychologically and energetically, nettles serve as a crucial ally for those with a hot temper that stings like the nettle. On the opposite side of the spectrum, nettles can really help to stoke the fire in a fire-deficient person with low energy, lack of libido, and mental dullness. This refers to nettle’s ability to really help just about anyone, especially on a spiritual level. I heard the phrase once “Where there is paradox, there is spirit”, and although I can’t remember where this came from, it’s always stuck with me when thinking about plants’ capacity to heal on many levels. I’ve always seen nettles as a power plant indicated when there is weak mental capacity or willpower or an overall lack of strength, both physically and emotionally.
Nettles are traditionally used during nettle limpias or cleansings in which someone is ‘flogged’ with fresh nettles being stung all over and cleansed by the spirit of the plant. This process promotes fresh blood flow throughout the entire body, and although this sounds incredibly uncomfortable, it is a beautiful representation of the healing and cleansing power of this plant.
Although we’re generally speaking about nettle leaves here as a food and medicine, the roots and seeds are also used. Nettle seeds, harvested in the heat of the summer, are specific for the adrenals, making some folks view nettle as an adaptogen. Although I don’t see nettle as a true adaptogen (plants that help the body and mind adapt to stress through the nervous system), nettle does help to nourish the body and provide minerals and strength for when stress is high. Nettle seeds are often found powdered and added to smoothies or taken in capsules. I’ve heard stories about folks using nettle seeds to cram for exams in college, take way too high of a dose, and not be able to sleep for days. This goes to show the power of the plant as well as remind us that more isn’t always better.
Nettle roots have a specific affinity for the male (and female) reproductive system, especially the prostate. You’ll find nettle root in many herbal prostate formulas and has been used successfully to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) in its early stages. Proper dosages and preparations vary from person to person and should be carefully thought out with a trusted practitioner in the treatment of acute diseases. Generally speaking as a nourishing tonic, nettles make a great infusion or tea that can be drank daily, tinctured, or eaten as food.
Nettles are incredibly abundant wherever they want to grow, and so there are no major concerns for overharvesting at this time, although it is always a good idea to harvest only the tops of the plants unless you are harvesting the roots (which would be done in the fall during Scorpio season late October through November) so that the plant population will not be damaged.
When harvesting, be sure to have a good knife or pair of scissors with you to cut through the fibrous stalks without leaving damage and have gloves on hand (pun intended) to avoid being stung by the plant when you touch it. Although, I’d like to mention that you really learn how to listen to the plant and take your time when harvesting if you choose to harvest barehanded. As always, only harvest what’s needed and follow the “Leave No Trace” principle: the less it seems like you were there, the better.
Fire, Mars, and Aries
Circling back to that archetypal force within all living beings, every element has a plant and planetary correspondence. While you do not have to be an expert with all of this information listed in a reference chart (I certainly am not), you can learn to observe nature through its cycles and signatures eventually seeing the elements within all of life. You can witness the fire in the rising sun, the summer heat, lava flowing from volcanos, and the sting of the nettle.
This ‘sting’ that is referred to when speaking of nettles is a key indicator of its relationship to Mars and the element of fire. While nettle is not necessarily a heating plant, this sting (which feels hot at first), ultimately helps to modulate inflammation through cooling heat within the body - another reference to the paradoxical spirit of nettle.
Mars, as a planet, is the ruler of Aries and the archetype of the warrior. It is a representation of our will to survive, action, and the sacred masculinity within all of us. Mars expresses itself in our daily lives through feelings of anger and frustration, strength and energy, vitality, passion, and movement.
If you sit near a patch of nettles long enough to pay attention, you may notice signs of frustration, impatience, or anger. Maybe a memory comes to mind that makes you angry, or you remember a time when you had to really fight for something. This is the nettle’s way of communicating what it is here to help heal and bring back to balance within the spirit, and this is by far the best way to learn from the plants: listen.
Often referred to as doctrines of signatures, plants have a beautiful way of communicating without the help of words but rather signs. Physically related to iron, you can see the correspondences of Mars in nettle’s extraordinary iron content. You can feel the relationship to the warrior in the way that nettle guards it’s space and fights back with a sting if you intrude or don’t show it respect.
In regards to it’s relationship to Aries, the sting of nettle is Aries: it’s the spark of fire. Aries is the first astrological sign in the zodiacal wheel and a representation of the creation of life itself. It is impulsive, hot, and moving up and out just like the vital force of nature during the Spring season. It is the realization of self in which we first become aware of our identity, just as the animals emerge from hibernation into the light of the spring sun. Positive aspects of Aries include bravery, courage, spontaneity, and leadership: the pioneer, so to speak.
There is so much more to say about these correlations that go beyond the scope of this post, but my hope is that this will ‘light a fire’ for you to begin observing nature in a way that maybe you’ve been searching for all along.