When you think of the minerals your body needs, your thoughts likely turn to calcium or iron supplements. Of course, many of our daily minerals come from food, and many from plants. And many of the plants we think of as herbal remedies are, in fact, mineral-rich foods. Added bonus: since the minerals in these herbs are in the form of organic compounds, they are easy for your body to assimilate.
About 500 different species of nettles are found in tropical and temperate climates all over the world. Commonly called stinging nettle, Urtica dioica (the Latin name translates as “to burn”) can grow as high as seven feet. The smaller Urtica urens are fixtures in Western herbal medicine. Nettle leaves are consumed as a spinach-like vegetable throughout Europe, and are remarkably nutritious. Cooking, drying, or soaking deactivates the sting you may feel when you touch them.
As a healing food, nettle is a general tonic, a nutritive, building herb. European herbal expert David Hoffmann calls it “one of the most widely applicable plants we have,” and says that nettles strengthen and support the whole body. In fact, Hoffmann’s motto is, “If in doubt, use nettles.” At its peak ripeness, nettle contains up to 25 percent dry weight protein, which is top-notch for a leafy green vegetable.
Is kale your go-to leafy green because of its high calcium content? You’ll go nuts for stinging nettle, which, at 428 mg of calcium per cup, boasts four times the amount of calcium as kale. Naturally high in iron, with 1.46 milligrams per 1-cup serving of cooked leaves (2 cups of fresh leaves or 2 tablespoons of crushed, dried leaves, which makes one cup of nettle tea), nettle is a champion for blood health.
Add that to substantial amounts of zinc, magnesium, copper, selenium, potassium, manganese, and vitamins A and C, and nettles rival spinach for total nutritional value.
Speaking of spinach, cooked nettle tastes similar to Popeye’s favorite lunch, and also has a slight cucumber flavor. Use nettle as a spinach, basil, or parsley substitute in polenta or pesto. Nettle soup is common in Northern and Eastern Europe. Nettle is also available in capsules and tinctures, and is often taken to relieve arthritis and allergies.
In a word association game, when you hear alfalfa, the first thing that may come to mind is “horse food.” After that, “sprouts.” Turns out, though, that alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a versatile food for people. It’s a legume related to clover, beans, and licorice, and its young leaves can be used in salads or as steamed greens. Alfalfa is high in calcium and other minerals; protein; B vitamins; and vitamins C, D, E, and K. With its mild, grassy taste, dried alfalfa is refreshing as a tea, or you can consume the dried powder in food or capsules. Capsules are often taken as a diuretic and to lower high cholesterol.
Horsetail (Equisetum spp.), an ancient plant, grows abundantly all over the globe. Herbalists have pointed to its bone-healing properties for centuries, and it’s a traditional joint medicine.
Recent studies have confirmed that this mineral-rich herb does in fact promote bone growth, while simultaneously suppressing bone-mineral loss—likely because of its silicon content. Studies indicate that silicon plays a role in bone development, may enhance bone mineral-ization, and may promote calcium deposition in bone. In an Italian trial, 122 women took placebo, a horsetail extract, or a horsetail-calcium combination. After a year, both the horsetail and calcium groups had a statistically significant improvement in bone density.
In addition to horsetail demonstrating promise as an effective natural treatment for osteoporosis, there’s more. Want longer, thicker hair? Horsetail is popular in supplements and teas to promote hair growth and strength, as well.