Nutrition from stinging nettle
The beautiful terraced slopes in Uttarakhand often lie barren as farmers tend to abandon agriculture due to the destruction caused by monkeys, wild boar, porcupines, etc. Stinging nettle (urtica dioica) is resistant to attack from wild animals and could become a commercial field crop instead of being treated like a weed. The medicinal and nutritional properties of nettle are well known across the world. Its leaves, stem and roots contain high concentrations of protein, Vitamin A as well as iron, calcium, magnesium and many other trace elements(Cu, Zn, Mn and Co) required by the human body. It is an excellent supplement to a wheat-based diet as it contains lysine, an amino acid in which wheat is deficient. In fact, it has a better amino acid profile than other leafy vegetables. It is a hardy, disease and animal resistant plant that can grow in poor soil and in erratic climatic conditions. It has also proved effective in controlling white grub (kurmula), a pest that kills plants by devouring the roots.
In partnership with the G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Green Hills undertook three years of research on the nutritional value of a variety of species of nettle sourced from different parts of Kumaon. Findings were publicised at conferences of scientists as well as through specialised research publications to raise awareness about its utility. In addition, farmers were trained in nettle seed collection, the best time to harvest its leaves, the appropriate drying process for nutrient retention, etc. As a follow-up to this research, a second three-year project is now in progress to develop products containing nettle and business plans to market them. This is being funded by the National Mission on Himalayan Studies (NMHS).
This action research is expected to boost organic farming, offer an alternative source of livelihood to small farmers and thus help stem the tide of labour migration from the hills towards cities.