Thursday, May 23, 2013


Stinging Nettle-Urtica Dioica, Urtica Urens

Also known as common nettle, slender nettle and dwarf nettle.

Parts used:  leaves, roots, flowers/seeds

Meridians/Organs affected:  urinary (bladder, kidneys), respiratory (lungs), glandular, digestive, small intestines

Properties:  bitter, diuretic, antitumor, antiseptic, hemostatic, emmenogogue, expectorant, vermifuge, antispasmodic, rubefacient, astringent, tonic, galatogogue, nutritive

This stinging plant is found in most temperate climates the world over.  It can be found virtually anywhere including woods, farms, roadsides, waste areas, fields and river banks.  Its favorite spot is usually wherever the nitrogen is richest in the soil (generally around gardens).  The smaller version of this species, usually referred to as 'dwarf nettle', is the one most often used for homeopathy.  It can get up to 7 feet tall and is covered with fine hairs and jagged leaves that alternate in pairs.

Nettle was considered a sacred herb by the Anglo Saxons who referred to it as 'wergulu'.  Nettle beer was often used for rheumatic conditions.  The tops of nettle plants were used as a rennet substitute for cheese making as they help to sour milk.  The leaves were also used to help ripen fruit and as a compost (the entire plant is packed with nutrition).  The leaves have been used in soups, pestos, and as an alternate to spinach (young leaves only for this purpose), and was very popular in tea form as a spring tonic.

Nettle is one of the very best plants for human health and nutrition.  (I know...this annoying, spiny, stinging plant is actually GOOD for you, hard to believe.)  It is packed with vitamins, minerals and a host of other truly amazing constituents, one of which is chlorophyll.  It is high in vitamins A, C and D and contains significant amounts of iron, potassium, silica, manganes, magnesium and calcium (obviously chalk full of the bone and blood friendly elements).  It is a very fibrous plant and has also been used to make nets, rope, paper, insect repellants and dyes because of its dense nature.  As our mineral deficient lifestyles (and soils I might add) have robbed us of so many elements necessary for optimal functioning, nettle would be an interesting item to add to one's dietary regimen a few times a week.  Something to ponder over at least.

 Nettles contain antihistamines which make this plant a caluable option for allergies and hay fever.  It can also help to lessen the severity of asthma attacks.  Commonly combined with elder flowers for hay fever, this plant has also been used by herbalists for ages as a blood tonic for anemic conditions as its iron content is readily assimilated as well as the chlorophyll.  It helps to clear the blood of urates and toxins by stimulating the kidneys.
Nettles can enhance one's natural immunity by assisting in helping fight infections much more easily.  (Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that chlorophyll is an excellent source of organic germanium, a power house of benefits including increasing one's oxygen uptake).  Nettle tea was often consumed at the first signs of illness or fever.  Combined with yarrow, mint, elder flowers or lime blossoms, it appeared to be very effective in eliminating illness before it became a big problem.
Nettls has been used to reduce blood sugar levels and increase circulation, both important in cases of diabetes.  It can also dilate the peripheral blood vessels and promote urine elimiation thus assisting to lower one's blood pressure. (I might also add that making a point of eating properly with foods that are high in nutritive value and exercising on a regular basis have always been known to be of benefit in ANY health related issue).  
Nettles is also what is called 'amphoteric'.  This means it can assist nursing mothers with milk production.  If the flow is scant, nettle will increase it, if the flow of milk is excessive, nettle will lessen it.  Amazing herb!
The root of stinging nettle is used on its own or as  tincture with saw palmetto for prostrate issues in men. 
Stinging nettle has a long history of usage dating back to Dioscoredes work "De Materia Medica" and even before that.  There is evidence that some cultures used it in self flagellation (beatings) to cure arthritis and rheumatic complaints (no doubt trading one kind of pain for another..OUCH).  In the early days , the leaves were also taken and rubbed over the body to help with chronic arthritis and rheumatism (slightly less painful than beating but still....sheesh).  And if you think that is a bit bizarre, there is such a thing called sado-botany where nettles is used to stimulate a sort of pain/pleasure response in a sort of twisted aphrodisiac sort of way.  (I am not even going to go there....just too weird).
As any cook can tell you, after boiling nettle for a few minutes it neutralizes the stinging capability of the plant.  The sting actually comes from the tiny hairs found all over the plant.  They inject the skin with formic acid (the same things red ants use) which causes the stinging rash and blistering.  This usually goes away within a few hours to a few days depending on one's sensitivity (incidentally, the antidote to stinging nettle is often found nearby, plantain, dock or mullein all work very effectively).  The boiled leaves of nettle can be used externally to stop bleeding on contact.  The root tea has been used to stop hemorrhaging of the lungs, intestines, urinary organs, nose and stomach.  The tea can increase menstrual flow, expel worms, assist with dysentery, diarrhea, stones, hemorrhoids, kidney inflammation, colds, fever, excess phlegm in the lungs and stomach, and as a skin wash for eczema.  It is also an old remedy for backaches, gout, arthritis and rheumatism (as shown above).  A nettle rinse is said to be wonderful for the hair and scalp as well.  It will help to eliminate dandruff and is said to return the natural color to graying hair (worth a try just to see if it works).  It has also been used to fight vaginal yeast infections (probably used as a douche in tea form combined with other natural elements no doubt).
The Germans used the stalk fiber during WWII in place of cotton, the Russians would make a beautiful green dye for their woolens from the leaves, and the root boiled with alum will make a nice yellow dye as well.
To harvest nettle (be sure to use gloves, or a haz mat suit if desired), pick the leaves when they are young (about the time when the plant is around 2-4 inches in height-they will appear to be a slight reddish-green in color which goes away as the plant ages).  The leaves can continue to be harvested in this manner throughout the growing season if one is persistent in gathering the NEW growth.  For medicinal purposes harvesting the leaves is best done between May and June as it comes into flower.  The roots should be gathered in the early spring or late fall when the greenery has died off.
DO NOT CONSUME UNCOOKED NETTLES-especially the older ones as they can be harmful to the kidneys and can portray poison symptoms.
Surprisingly there have actually been studies conducted on this wonderful plant (however annoying it may be).  In one such study conducted by the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, 69 patients suffering from moderate to severe allergies were given nettle.  Of the 69 patients, 57% found nettle to be highly effective in relieving their allergy symptoms.  Half of the group said it was as good or better than other hay fever medications previously given.  (The nettle in this study was given in capsule form.  One or two capsules up to 4 times daily-NOT to exceed 8 capsules).  In more recent studies it has been used to combat gingivitis and plaque (as a mouthwash), as a treatment for prostate cancer (study done in Germany), for hepatitis and gall bladder inflammation (study conducted in Russia) and for paralysis and multiple sclerosis (used by stinging the skin with the plant to stimulate a nerve response...ongoing in several countries).  The effects vary from person to person but the important thing is they are actually STUDYING it for health benefits.

DO NOT USE NETTLE IF YOU SHOW AN ALLERGIC RESPONSE TO IT!  To test for sensitivity take nettle in tea form (a sip or two should suffice).  If you have a reaction of rash or swelling after a few minutes then do not take it, either in a liquid or capsule form. 

As is customary with my posts I have included several links below regarding items that you might be interested in concerning nettle.

1 comment:

  1. I am so grateful for the knowledge that you are sharing in these posts. I love to wild craft for salads and pickling. This website is amazing. I so appreciate your work in collecting and sharing all this info! Thank you