Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has been a staple in herbal medicine since ancient times. Ancient Egyptians used stinging nettle to treat arthritis and lower back pain, while Roman troops rubbed it on themselves to help stay warm.
Its scientific name, Urtica dioica, comes from the Latin word uro, which means “to burn,” because its leaves can cause a temporary burning sensation upon contact. The stingers are tiny trichomes, or hollow hairs, that sting and also produce itching, redness and swelling.
Nettle leaves and stalks are high in calcium, magnesium, trace minerals, chlorophyll, chromium, cobalt, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, sulfur, protein, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, D, K and B complex, and carotenes.
- Fats: Linoleic acid, linolenic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and oleic acid
- Amino acids: All of the essential amino acids
- Polyphenols: Kaempferol, quercetin, caffeic acid, coumarins and other flavonoids
- Pigments: Beta-carotene, lutein, luteoxanthin and other carotenoids
Many of these nutrients act as antioxidants inside your body defending your cells against damage from free radicals. Studies indicate that stinging nettle extract can raise blood antioxidant levels.
In animal and test-tube studies, stinging nettle reduced levels of multiple inflammatory hormones by interfering with their production. In human studies, applying a stinging nettle cream or consuming stinging nettle products relieves inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis. In one 27-person study, applying a stinging nettle cream onto arthritis-affected areas significantly reduced pain, compared to a placebo treatment.
Hay fever is an allergy that involves inflammation in the lining of your nose. Stinging nettle is a natural treatment for hay fever. Test-tube research shows that stinging nettle extracts can inhibit inflammation that can trigger seasonal allergies. This includes blocking histamine receptors and stopping immune cells from releasing chemicals that trigger allergy symptoms.
An enlarged prostate is commonly called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Scientists aren’t sure what causes BPH, but it can lead to significant discomfort during urination. Stinging nettle may help treat BPH. Animal research reveals that nettles prevent the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, a more powerful form of testosterone. Stopping this conversion can help reduce prostate size. Studies in people with BPH demonstrate that stinging nettle extracts help treat short- and long-term urination problems, without side effects.
Stinging nettle was traditionally used to treat high blood pressure. Animal and test-tube studies illustrate that it may help lower blood pressure in several ways. It may stimulate nitric oxide production, which acts as a vasodilator. Vasodilators relax the muscles of your blood vessels, helping them widen.
Stinging nettle has compounds that may act as calcium channel blockers, which relax your heart by reducing the force of contractions.
Both human and animal studies link stinging nettle to lower blood sugar levels. Stinging nettles contain compounds that may mimic the effects of insulin. In a three-month study in 46 people, taking 500 mg of stinging nettle extract three times daily significantly lowered blood sugar levels compared to a placebo.
Stinging nettle may offer other potential health benefits, including:
- Helps in relaxing. As a flower essence, nettle may help in decision-making. It has a calming effect, and it clears up brain fog as well as aids in making clear and concise decisions. Nettle promotes a grounded feeling when we get overwhelmed. Nettle flower essence may also help in healing from unresolved tensions.
- Reduced bleeding: Medicines containing stinging nettle extract have been found to reduce excessive bleeding, especially after surgery.
- Liver health: Nettle’s antioxidant properties may protect your liver against damage by toxins, heavy metals and inflammation.
- Natural diuretic: This plant may help your body shed excess salt and water, which in turn could lower blood pressure temporarily. Keep in mind that these findings
are from animal studies.
- Wound and burn healing: Applying stinging nettle creams may support wound healing, including burn wounds.
- It may help during menopause, provides nourishment and kidney tonic after chemotherapy, works as a general tonic for kidney and gout.
Stinging nettle can be applied as a cream or oil. Nettle can also be made into a tea or taken as a pill, powder, or extract. Dosage is 300 mg/day, one to two times daily. Don’t take nettle if you take medication for blood pressure. Check with your health care provider before you start taking it.
How to Buy
Stinging nettle sold is easy to find in tea form in health food stores. To try the plant in its fresh leaf form, you can find it at a farmers’ market, or pick it yourself. Finding the plant in the wild isn’t too hard, and the jagged-leafed stalk grows like a weed wherever it takes root. You can also plant stinging nettle in your own garden, though give it a patch away from other vegetables so it doesn’t take over.
How to Store
Pick stinging nettle fresh and use it right away. Or place the cut plants in a jar of water like you would cut flowers to prolong its life to about five days in the refrigerator. If you plan on preparing and cleaning the leaves before storage, you can place the damp plant between paper towels and store in a silicone bag or container for up to three days.
How to Cook
While coming into contact with this plant in its raw form does hurt, the effect will wear off and its trichomes can easily be removed.
Before you cook with this plant, make sure it’s very clean. You don’t want to ingest the stinging hairs. Wash it well while wearing gloves to break up the needles or cook it down so they melt away. If you use it raw, first crush the hollow “needles” flat using the blunt end of a knife or pressing down with a drinking glass. This can be done wearing gloves to ensure you don’t get stung. Blanching the leaves briefly in boiling water will also remove the stingers.
Stinging nettle tastes like mild spinach without the strong iron flavor. It’s green and grassy-tasting, not unlike other dark leafy plants, with a bit of a peppery bite, like arugula.
Anything you can do with spinach you can basically do with stinging nettle, and more. Cook it down like a leafy green and add to soup and creamy risotto, layer it into lasagn.
To make tea, steep cleaned nettle leaves in boiling water for at least five minutes and then strain and sweeten as desired.