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Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Nettle, usually known as stinging nettle comes from the latin name 'urere' which means “to burn,” and rightfully so. This herb has stinging hairs on the leaves, that when touched, leaves a painful sting or burn on your skin. Other names for the nettle are Common Nettle, Greater Nettle, Burn Nettle, Burn Weed and Burn Hazel here in North America, but over in Europe may also be called: Scaddie, Ortie, Brennessel or Qurrays to name a few. Traditionally, this herb was to flog the patient with the stingers of the nettle plant which would ease pain of arthritis. In medieval times, people would also be lashed with the stingers of the plant to bring blood to the surface of the skin which would act as a counter-irritant causing inflammation and will warm one's body. It's ironic how a plant with stingers could both inflict pain when touched, yet also heal with the pain of the stingers in arthritic conditions.

Nettle is an herbaceous perennial. The flowers are very small and clustered on strands that stem from the leaf axils between the stem of the plant and the stem of the leaf. The flowers are usually a greenish brown on the Urtica dioica species, but other species of nettles may have flowers ranging from green, white, yellow or purple, depending on species and time of year. Each flower has four petals which are separated from each other. Usually the plant is either male or female, hence the name dioica, but sometimes both male and female flowers will be on the same plant. The seed is enclosed in a single seeded, tan, oval-shaped fruit. The fruit is dry and does not split open when ripe. The fruit clusters along the drooping flower spikes. The Nettle plant has two leaves which grows opposite another per node on the stem. The leaves are deep green, serrated margin, is heart-shaped and grows 1-6 inches long. The leaves venation is pinnate. It also has bristly, needle like hairs on the entire plant, which are nearly invisible. The needles are more dense and more potent as a young plant. They are less dense towards the top of a mature plant. The older the plant gets, the less stingers it has. The sting from this plant is caused by a chemical in the plant called formic acid. Other irritating constituents are histamine, acetylcholine and 5-hydroxytryptamine. It's sting can last a few minutes to few hours and is best remedied nettle juice or with the plants: dock, plantain, dandelion or jewelweed, which usually grow nearby. Nettle grows about 2-6 feet tall. If the tops are trimmed, regularly, it will continue to grow and produce throughout the summer months. The Nettle plants can be propagated by seeds, cuttings or by root divisions. In the wild, it will spread usually by its roots, the rhizomes, and it is a prolific spreader.

Nettle has about 40 species in the family Urticaceae. Of its many species, it has been divided into 6 clearly defined subspecies, five of which have hairs which sting when touched. It is native to Eurasia and North America, depending on its species. Urtica dioica is specifically native to Europe, and was later transferred to North America. It is found growing in rich soil and it likes to be in full sun to partial shade. This plant is mostly found in moderate to high moisture soils, so it is likely to be found more abundantly towards the coasts of North America and Europe. Although it grows near the coasts, it does not tolerate saline environments. However, it also spreads south into North Africa, east to Asia and into central North America. It is found in both warm and cold climates. The only state is doesn't grow in is Hawaii. Since Nettles is a prolific spreader and found all over the world, it is not an endangered species. There really aren't any natural enemies to this plant, but many butterflies and beetles utilize this plant to eat. Also, white-tailed deer have been known to love eating this plant.

Nettles isn't only nutritive and medicinal. The fibers of the plant can also be used for making clothing. It is similar to hemp or flax in durability. During World War I, German armies used the plant to make their uniforms. It has also been used for sail cloth and fishing nets. Today, Germany, Italy and Austria continue to use the plant for clothing. The fibers can also be used for making paper.

One of the best things about this herb is that you can eat it raw if it's juiced, pulverized or blended to keep the stingers from stinging you. Heating the herb or drying the herb eliminates the stingers from stinging. Many people heat up this herb and eat it as a side dish like spinach or other greens may be used, however, if you are going to eat it, it's preferred that the plant is young, as a mature plant has a gritty texture when you eat it. This herb when brewed in a tea, smells a bit like lake water. It's slightly earthy, but fairly neutral in taste. It has a slight sweet and green taste to it. Because it is very mild, it would blend nicely with other herbs in to any kind of herbal blend. It's standardly taken as an infusion or tincture which is great for detox, soothing kidneys or helping hemorrhaging internally. The infusion could also be used externally as a hair wash for dry and brittle hair and to help regrow hair. It can also be used in a poultice on the skin for arthritic conditions, for pain relief and deep tissue soothing or for applications such as hemorrhoids.

You can use this herb, medicinally, for many applications. People may present symptoms of:

  • Chronic skin problems, bursitis, hair loss, cuts, wounds, stings or bites from insects, burns and scalds externally on the body.

  • It can help with muscle pain, growing pains and night leg cramps.

  • Nettles can assist nerve issues such as paralysis and sciatica.

  • After child birth it may be used where the mother may be hemorrhaging, and the nettles will help stop the blood loss. Also it's great for promoting milk supply for the newborn baby.

  • Nettles is also great for arthritis and rheumatic joints. It is said to use it to 'fight pain with pain'.

  • It may also be used for digestion. The tannins will help to protect the gut lining from irritation and infection. It also helps with flatulence and diarrhea.

  • Nettles will also stimulate the detox the liver and remove gallstones from the gallbladder.

  • For the kidneys, it is a diuretic, it's helpful with urinary irritation and UTI's. It will help soften stones and gravel and also help with bedwetting or incontinence. It will also help to clear gout.

  • Many have used Nettles to relieve enlarged prostate issues.

  • It will reduce blood sugar.

  • It is even helpful with thyroid function.

  • As I said before, nettles will help to expel toxins which will help increase immunity. It is also anti-bacterial and will help against staph infections.

  • Nettle root is best used as a respiratory herb which will help clear bronchitis, hay fever and asthma.

  • Last, Nettles is also known as a blood builder, providing iron and vitamins C, B complex, A and it's loaded with minerals such as magnesium, calcium, silicon, manganese, zinc, chromium and more.

Nettles has many beneficial constituents. Formic acid is what causes a reaction in the body when hit with the stinging hairs of the plant. There is also acetylecholine, cholorophyll, carotine, enzyme secretin, gallic and tannic acid, glycoside, hormones, glucoquinone, indoles, lecithin, protein, malic acid, mucilage, quercetin, rutin, xanthophyll, high in vitamins C and B-complex, and many trace minerals including sulphur, sodium, chlorine, phosphorus, manganese, silicon, zinc and chromium.

All parts of the plant are used. The root and seeds are best for respiratory issues, the leaf is the most widely used for all issues though, since it's readily available. The Nettle plant is very nourishing, restoring, an alterative, astringing, dissolving, and stabilizing. It also has hemostatic qualities. Nettles is a galactagogue, a blood builder, an anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory.

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