Botanical Urtica dioica, commonly known as nettle leaf, common nettle, or stinging nettle, is an herbaceous, perennial flowering plant with coarsely serrated leaves 1 to 6 inches (3 to 15 cm) long. It grows abundantly in North America, Europe and Asia, usually in rural habitats where moist soils are prevalent. All parts of the plant—stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots—offer numerous health benefits ranging from arthritis relief to more luxurious hair. The leaves can be prepared in a variety of ways to provide a nutritious food source. The fibers within the core of nettle stems, similar to flax (linen) have been used for centuries to make clothing and other textiles. Often reaching heights of 3 to 7 feet (1 to 2 m), stinging nettle gets its name from the stinging hairs on its stems and leaves called trichomes. The hairs inject histamines, acetylcholine—a common neurotransmitter found in many organisms, including humans—and formic acid. These chemicals produce a sharp stinging sensation when they come in contact with animals and humans.
Stinging nettle is widely considered to be a safe treatment option for many chronic disorders. Its gentle, stimulating effects help to cleanse the blood and eliminate wastes through the kidneys. It is rich in vitamins A and C, and in minerals calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. When soaked in water or cooked, the stinging properties of nettle are no longer present. The leaves, stems, and roots can be infused to make a tea. When taken daily, the tea is purported to have beneficial effects for many conditions including:
- Urinary tract and kidney disorders – The herb is a natural diuretic that increases secretion and urine flow, making it ideal for treating water retention and bladder infections. Its medicinal properties are thought to break down kidney stones and gravel in the bladder.
- Digestive conditions – Nettle tea is long known to aid in cases of diarrhea, dysentery, and hemorrhoids. The herb stimulates the digestive glands of the stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, and gall bladder.
- Hay fever – Stinging nettle has excellent anti-histamine properties. Drinking the tea daily for several weeks before allergy season seems to bring good results to hay fever sufferers.
- Anemia and fatigue – Nettle’s iron content makes it a wonderful blood builder while its stores of Vitamin C aid in absorption. The combination helps the body regain vitality.
- Respiratory complaints – Nettle tea clears mucus congestion and fights coughs. Historically,the tea has proven useful in treating bronchitis and tuberculosis.
When applied topically, the juice of the plant is known to bring relief to sore muscles and arthritic joints. Stinging nettle’s stimulating properties also make it an excellent scalp treatment and hair rinse. Applied daily, the herb helps to eliminate dandruff while promoting growth, softness, and shine.
- Herbal tea – For bulk tea, use 1 heaped teaspoon of dried or fresh stinging nettle to 8 ounces (1/4 liter) of boiling water. Let steep for 3 minutes. Drink three to four cups per day.
- Herbal supplement (capsule) – Supplements come in various sizes and potencies. Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
- Tincture – 6-12 drops per 8 ounces (1/4 liter) of water. Drink up to three cups per day.
Stinging nettle most resembles spinach in flavor and texture, which is why it can easily serve as a spinach substitute in most recipes. Nettle soup is a common and nutritious choice. Experiment by replacing your traditional spinach recipes with stinging nettle. Or try one of these delicious options:
Gathering Stinging Nettles
Gathering herbs is fun and rewarding, provided you familiarize yourself with the plants and take precautions. Stinging nettle is best gathered in the spring when the plants are young and robust. Be sure to wear long sleeves, pants, and appropriate footwear to protect skin from stings.
Stinging nettle, though considered relatively safe, may not be compatible with certain health conditions or medications. In some people, it can cause mild stomach upset or skin irritations. If you are taking any kind of blood thinner, including aspirin, do not use stinging nettle. Also, pregnant women and women who are nursing, diabetics, and those suffering from high blood pressure should not use stinging nettle.