I’m often asked what herbs make up our signature Tree of Qi tea, which every patient is offered when they arrive at the clinic.

Colonel Sanders never revealed his secret herbs and spices; only a handful of McDonald’s staff have been sworn to secrecy around the ingredients of their Big Mac’s special sauce ; and as for what actually goes into the syrup behind the world’s most famous drink, aside from too much sugar, your guess is as good as mine!  But I’m prepared to reveal one of the key ingredients in our signature tea. It’s Nettle Leaf – the focus of this month’s Herbal Spotlight.

The common nettle plant has been valued for centuries as extremely dense in energizing substances that are nourishing to the blood as well as cleansing to the body. Today it is regarded as a super food with its leaves, roots and stalks containing antioxidants and many essential vitamins and minerals.

Nettles are famous for being able to relieve almost all symptoms caused by allergies including itchy, watery eyes; sneezing, running nose and nasal inflammation.

Research tells us that Western medical practitioners are increasingly using nettle as a decongestant, as an antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, or diuretic. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, nettle has been long known for its capacity to treat skin eczema, congested lungs, gout, edema, and generally enriching kidney and liver Yin. Throughout history nettles were also believed to help break curses and spells!

Nettle strengthens the entire body. In TCM terms, it is a Yin tonic, meaning that it strengthens the Yin aspects of the self. It helps the body cool itself down more effectively as well as strengthening all the vital organs, especially the immune system, kidneys, and liver.

While nettles can be quite invasive, similar to dandelion, they are one of the most common wild herbal foods.

Today nettle is commonly used among modern day herbal practitioners for the treatment of urinary disorders, hay fever and is shown to be helpful for prostate gland enlargement as well as reducing the symptoms associated with menopause.

Nettle is also used in certain TCM formulas to help transition a difficult situation into a nurturing one since the leaves can be burned to drive out negative energies.

By strengthening the lungs, both boosting and training the immune system, and decreasing inflammation throughout the body, nettle helps in all respiratory illnesses, including asthma and bronchitis.

According to Chinese medicine, a simple infusion of the dried nettle herb from the fresh plant or juice of the fresh herb can also treat anemia, poor circulation, and an enlarged spleen. Nettle helps stimulate circulation but it can also stop bleeding. It contains both Vitamin K, which allows for blood clotting, and coumarin – a blood thinner. Because it helps the circulation and is full of antioxidants, it is also a useful remedy for arteriosclerosis. At the same time nettle helps the digestive system become more effective and makes it useful for IBS, IBD, and practically specific for Crohn’s disease. It may also be useful to lower both blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Similarly, because of its high antioxidant value, it’s anti-inflammatory qualities, and its ability to improve circulation it is also good for the heart.

The good news is that it’s extremely easy to brew nettle tea. Simply add water to your collected nettle leaves and heat to a near boil. Use about two cups of water for a cup of leaves; there’s no need to measure. You can make the tea stronger by steeping longer, or weaker by adding more water.

Once the water is near boiling, reduce heat and simmer for a couple minutes. Pour through a small strainer and the tea is ready to drink. Some people prefer a small bit of honey added to the tea as a sweetener, but I find the taste is just fine without any additives.

The cooked leaves can also be added to soups.

Here’s a really simple recipe for nettle soup.

Around 1 C nettle tops

¼ C knob of butter or olive oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 large or 2 smallish leeks, trimmed, washed and finely sliced

2 celery sticks, chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp white rice, such as basmati

4 C vegetable or chicken stock

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

6 heaped tbsp thick, plain yogurt, to finish

1 small bunch chives, to finish

Pick over the nettles, wash them thoroughly and discard the tougher stalks. Melt the butter or heat the oil in a large pan over medium-low heat, add the onion, leek, celery and garlic, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes, stirring a few times, until soft but not brown. Add the rice and stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the nettles, stirring them into the stock as they wilt, and simmer for five minutes or so, until the rice and the nettles are tender (very young nettle tops will need only two to three minutes). Season with plenty of salt and pepper.

Purée the soup in two batches, reheat if necessary and check the seasoning. Add salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve in warmed bowls, topping each portion with a large dollop of yogurt and a generous sprinkling of snipped chives.