Value added products from the forgotten crop - Urtica dioica

Stinging nettle harvested wild or cultivated can unlock possibilities for organic additives for enriching foods.

2021.03.16

Nettles cultivated or wild are suitable to be processed as functional powders and extracts. They are rich in health benefitting compounds like carotenoids and phenolic compounds and can be used to enrich pasta doughs and to prepare functional crackers.

The raising interest in use of bioactive components and the simultaneous demand for ‘organic foods’ is pushing research in direction of re-discovering traditional plants for innovative uses. In the last two years, SusOrgPlus team of researchers have been working on various known crops like hops, nettle, tea, and tomatoes to address the issues of organic and sustainable alternatives for production of functional additives.

The objective of the team is to develop innovative dried products and extracts from the selected plant materials by use of drying and encapsulation techniques for use as natural additives (colours and flavours), functional and nutritional ingredients.

Nettle – a potential source of organic additives?

Urtica dioica L., commonly known as stinging nettle is a multi-purpose annual, perennial herb from Urticaceae family and is a commonly known weed in intensive agriculture. The widespread growth of this crop in temperate to tropical climates of Europe and its ease of propagation and cultivation makes it a suitable crop within the scope of organic farming with sustainable yields. These plants have traditionally been used as a potherb in preparing soups and omelettes around Europe and as a folk medicine for their medicinal benefits. The added value of this crop not only lies in its potential for preparing products but also in its environmental benefits by improving crop diversity and as a tool for phytoremediation, i.e. technologies using living plants to clean up soil, air, and water contaminated with hazardous contaminants.

Within the scope of producing organic and sustainable additives, SusOrgPlus considered stinging nettle plants as a prime choice for product applications considering its nutritional and health-benefitting properties. Both wild and cultivated nettles have been evaluated both as substrates for production of dried powders or extracts and their sustainability. The studies carried out have resulted in successful transformation of nettle leaves into shelf-stable powders and extracts. Further, the qualitative tests performed on the nettle powders and extracts have shown them to be rich source of chlorophylls, carotenoids, different polyphenolic compounds, and minerals (particularly iron). The research team presently focuses on the use of the bioactive and nutritionally rich ‘Nettle ingredients’ for development of functional and enriched products based on conventional and regularly consumed foods like pasta and crackers.


This work is being conducted in collaboration between University of Tuscia (Viterbo, Italy) and University of Teramo (Teramo, Italy). SusOrgPlus is a part of 12 projects in the CORE ORGANIC COFUND consortium supporting research for developing innovative and sustainable solutions for processing organic foods by use of low-cost, dynamic, and smart processing systems.

For more information, please see:

https://www.susorgplus.eu/activities/wp-4-application-natural-additives-and-colourants-and-development-innovative-organic

Authors

Swathi Nallan, University of Tuscia, swathi.nallan@unitus.it

Roberto Moscetti, University of Tuscia, rmoscetti@unitus.it

Lilia Neri, University of Teramo, lneri@unite.it

Riccardo Massantini, University of Tuscia, massanti@unitus.it

Paola Pittia, University of Teramo, ppittia@unite.it


Editor: Karin Ullven / Design: Christine Dilling     

Agriculture and food