Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle)
Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle)
Stinging hairs of nettle
Stinging hairs of nettle

Urtica dioica, commonly known as stinging nettle, is well known for the burning, itchy rash it causes when you come into contact with its stinging hairs. But lesser known is its value as an edible and medicinal plant.

Cooking removes the stinging chemicals from the plant, rendering it edible. As a cooked green, nettle is said to taste similar to spinach, and can be used in place of it in recipes.

Nettle is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains silica and other minerals needed to promote healthy hair, skin and nails, and is rich in numerous vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, E, and K, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Nettle leaves contain up to 25% protein by dry weight. It is best harvested for edible use in the spring, before it has flowered or set seed. For ideas on how to cook nettle, click here.

U. dioica. The underside of nettle leaves are usually devoid of stinging hairs.
U. dioica. The underside of nettle leaves are usually devoid of stinging hairs.

Nettle has shown much value in the treatment of allergies. It has been used for this purpose for centuries, particularly for hay fever (seasonal allergies), the most common allergy problem. Nettle has anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. This makes it effective for the treatment of eczema, hives, and asthma as well.

Unlike conventional allergy medications, nettle has been shown to be effective without the risk of side effects, and its effectiveness does not lessen over time as conventional treatments can tend to do. For this purpose, nettle can be taken daily in capsule form, or made into a tea. A tea can be made using 3 or 4 teaspoons of dried nettle leaves in 2/3 cup of water. A stronger infusion has been known to treat allergy symptoms within minutes.

Leaves and seeds of slender nettle (Urtica gracilis)
Slender nettle (Urtica gracilis) leaves and seeds. Slender nettle has narrower leaves and fewer stinging hairs than stinging nettle, and often grows much taller (up to 7 feet).

Stinging nettle has the effect of increasing a mother’s milk supply. (1) It has also been used in conjunction with other herbs, such as Prunus africana (red stinkwood) and Serenoa repens (saw palmetto) for the treatment of an inflamed or enlarged prostate. A combination of nettle and Thymus vulgaris (common thyme), Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice), Vitis vinifera (common grape vine) and Alpinia officinarum (lesser galangal) has been used as an antihemorrhagic. (2)

Canada wood nettle (Laportea canadensis)
Canada wood nettle (Laportea canadensis)

Stinging nettle tea helps to clear excess uric acid from the body, relieving the pain and inflammation of gout. Due to its ability to decrease blood sugar, it can be helpful for those who suffer from diabetes. And alongside vitamin C and cranberries, it is helpful in the treatment of urinary tract infections. It eases the inflammation of the bladder and urethra, soothing the pain, and promotes urination, flushing the body of the harmful bacteria.

Treatment of Nettle Stings.

Interestingly, the juice of the nettle leaves themselves, as an antihistamine, can be used to treat the welts associated with a nettle rash. Other readily available natural treatments include jewelweed, the common lawn weed plantain, or baking soda. In a pinch you can always use urine (although I am personally uncertain how desperate one would have to be to urinate on themselves). 🙂

Urtica dioica
Urtica dioica
urtica dioica
Urtica dioica

Notes:

Nettle’s properties make it useful against a long list of maladies. Besides those listed above, it is beneficial in the treatment of: arthritis, bronchitis, bursitis, gingivitis, laryngitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, tendinitis, rheumatism and other inflammatory conditions, as well as high blood pressure, hair loss, anemia, excessive menstruation, hemorrhoids, neuralgia, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney stones, multiple sclerosis, PMS, and sciatica. Forgive me for not covering all of them in the article! 😀

1. galactagogue: a food or drug that promotes or increases the flow of a mother’s milk.

2. antihemorrhagic: a substance that promotes hemostasis (stops bleeding). Also known as a hemostatic.

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