Urtica dioica, commonly known as stinging nettle, is a versatile herb with a wide range of applications. Despite its unassuming appearance and stinging touch, this plant has been cherished for its nutritional and medicinal properties throughout history. One of my all-time most beloved herbs, perhaps partly because of that prickly nature, Nettle finds its nourishing way into my family’s meals on an almost daily basis.
Historical and Traditional Uses
Stinging nettle has a long history of use in various cultures around the world. It has been employed as a food source, a fiber for textiles, and a medicinal herb. Some of the traditional uses of stinging nettle include:
- Treating joint pain and inflammation
- Alleviating symptoms of seasonal allergies
- Supporting urinary tract health
Today, stinging nettle remains a popular natural remedy and is available in various forms, including teas, capsules, tinctures, and creams. Its current applications are similar to Traditional uses, and include:
- Joint health: Nettle is often used to help manage joint pain and inflammation, particularly in individuals with arthritis or other joint-related conditions.
- Allergy relief: Some people find relief from seasonal allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and itching, by using stinging nettle.
- Urinary tract support: Nettle has been used to support urinary tract health and promote healthy urinary function.
- As a nutritive supplement: Stinging Nettle is one of the most nutrient-dense herbs that we know of, and is included in many nutritional supplements and herbal formulae.
Chemical Constituents and Actions
Stinging nettle contains a range of active compounds, including flavonoids, sterols, and various minerals, which contribute to its medicinal effects. These compounds have been studied for their potential actions in the body, such as:
- Anti-inflammatory: Nettle's flavonoids and other compounds may help reduce inflammation, potentially providing relief for joint pain and other inflammatory conditions.
- Antihistamine: Some of the compounds in stinging nettle, particularly its flavonoids, have been found to exhibit antihistamine effects, which may help alleviate allergy symptoms.
- Diuretic: Stinging nettle has been shown to have diuretic properties, which can support urinary tract health and promote healthy urinary function.
Precautions and Contraindications
As with any herbal remedy, there are potential side effects and precautions to consider when using stinging nettle. Some possible side effects include:
- Skin irritation: Direct contact with fresh stinging nettle leaves can cause skin irritation, itching, and redness. This effect is temporary and doesn’t usually cause any complications.
- Gastrointestinal discomfort: Some people may experience mild stomach upset when taking stinging nettle supplements.
Stinging nettle may also interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners and blood pressure medications. Pregnant women may wish to exercise caution and wait until the third trimester to include Nettle leaf in their herbal regime.
Growing and Harvesting Stinging Nettle
For those interested in cultivating stinging nettle at home, this resilient perennial is relatively easy to grow and maintain, although it is prone to get away from the inattentive gardener, spreading by both seed and rhizome. To grow stinging nettle, consider the following tips:
- Soil: Plant stinging nettle in well-draining soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. The plant is adaptable to a variety of soil types.
- Sunlight: Stinging nettle thrives in full sun to partial shade, making it suitable for a range of garden environments.
- Watering: Stinging nettle prefers moist soil, so regular watering is necessary to maintain the health of the plant.
- Consider planting Stinging nettle in a contained area - once it is established you will have it in your garden forever, stinging hairs and all.
When it comes to harvesting stinging nettle, both the leaves and roots can be used for medicinal purposes. The leaves are typically harvested in the spring and early summer before the plant flowers, while the roots can be collected in the fall.
Remember to wear gloves and protective clothing when harvesting stinging nettle to avoid skin irritation from the plant's stinging hairs.
DIY Stinging Nettle Remedies
If you're interested in creating your own stinging nettle remedies, consider the following ideas:
- Stinging nettle tea: Steep dried nettle leaves in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Strain and enjoy as a nourishing and soothing beverage. For a more deeply nutritious brew, steep 30g of dried nettle leaves in 1 litre of water overnight in the fridge and enjoy throughout the day.
Stinging nettle tincture: Combine dried nettle leaves or roots with a high-proof alcohol (such as vodka) in a glass jar, and let the mixture steep for 4-6 weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain and store the tincture in a dark glass bottle, using it as directed by a healthcare professional.
- Chrubasik, J. E., Roufogalis, B. D., & Chrubasik, S. (2007). Evidence of effectiveness of herbal anti-inflammatory drugs in the treatment of painful osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain. Phytotherapy Research, 21(7), 675-683.
- Johnson, T. A., Sohn, J., Inman, W. D., Bjeldanes, L. F., & Rayburn, K. (2006). Lipophilic stinging nettle extracts possess potent anti-inflammatory activity, are not cytotoxic and may be superior to traditional tinctures for treating inflammatory disorders. Phytomedicine, 13(1-2), 69-78.
- Mittman, P. (1990). Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Medica, 56(1), 44-47.
- Namazi, N., Esfanjani, A. T., Heshmati, J., & Bahrami, A. (2014). The effect of hydro alcoholic Nettle (Urtica dioica) extracts on insulin sensitivity and some inflammatory indicators in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized double-blind control trial. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences, 17(8), 1142-1147.
- Roschek, B., Fink, R. C., McMichael, M., & Alberte, R. S. (2009). Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Phytotherapy Research, 23(7), 920-926.
- Safarinejad, M. R. (2005). Urtica dioica for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, 5(4), 1-11.