The following article about Nettle appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Natural Herbal Living Magazine.
Latin Name: Urtica dioica
Other Names: Nettles, Stinging Nettle, Common Nettle
Leaves: tonic, nutritive, anti-inflammatory, astringent,
diuretic, immunotonic, renal tonic, liver tonic, uterine tonic, galactagogue, detoxicant, glandular, antiseptic, hemostatic
Seeds: tonic, adrenal, anthelmintic
Roots: astringent, anti-inflammatory, glandular
Topically: rubefacient, hemostatic, stimulant, hair tonic, skin tonic
“When in doubt, give Nettles,” says the herbalist David Hoffman. This is one of our gentlest, most nourishing herbs, with the greatest breadth of indications. Few people will not find nettles helpful. It serves as a tonic for the entire body. Indeed, its uses are so numerous that it was difficult to finish this article!
I first made the acquaintance of nettle plants when I was accompanying my husband on a research trip to Germany. The Heidegger archive was conveniently near to the Schwarzwald, and as we walked through the woods I brushed my hand against nettles as often as I could. I had recently injured my thumb, and the nettle stings, while not particularly pleasant, improved my range of motion enough to motivate me to continue with this counter-intuitive course of treatment. A few weeks later, we found ourselves in the Russian countryside, where my 7-year-old nephew was delighted to bring me armfuls of this and watch incredulously as I brushed my thumb against them repeatedly.
Like a stern Zen master, nettle stings those who touch it casually and without focus. However, it accepts deliberate touch gently, whether the touch be firm or light. Intention is key to touching nettle plants. I have often harvested it barehanded and received no stings on the palm or palm side of the fingers. The backs of my hands, however, suffered greatly from their casual brushing against plants next to the ones I was harvesting.
Nettle may well be the most nutritious of all land-plants. The leaves are an excellent source of the following:
- beta carotene
- the B vitamins thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin
- vitamins B6, C, D, E, and K
- bioflavonoids, antioxidants, chlorophyll, essential fatty acids, polysaccharides, and carbohydrates
- the minerals calcium, magnesium, iron, selenium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, boron, chrome, copper, sulphur, and aluminum
Nettle leaves also contain more protein by weight than any other plant. Thirty percent of nettle’s weight consists of protein. It also contains more beta carotene than carrots. In other words, nettle is an amazing superfood, one of nature’s most nourishing gifts. Chlorophyll is the plant’s closest analogue to blood, and nettle is the land plant richest in chlorophyll; drinking a quart of strong nettle infusion is probably the closest gastronomic equivalent to a blood transfusion. Nettle’s nutritional goodies are all water soluble, so preparing nettles as a long infusion allows you to reap the full benefit of the plant. You will absorb more nutrients from the infusion or a nettle soup than from a multi-vitamin or multi- mineral supplement, and the nutritional load is comparable. Not only that, but nettle enhances absorption. Many herbalists drink nettle infusion a few times a week, and some drink it daily. Because of its extraordinary nutritional power, it is an excellent drink to have when fasting, and also when convalescing. Obviously, it is a superb survival food, and also a forager’s delight.
Nettle tonifies, or strengthens, the entire body. It builds energy calmly and steadily. In Traditional Chinese Medicine terms, it is a Yin tonic, meaning that it strengthens the Yin aspects of the self. It aids the body in cooling itself down more effectively as well as facilitating one’s capacity for nurturance and self-nurture. It also strengthens all the vital organs, especially the immune system, the kidneys, the bladder, reproductive organs, the liver, the endocrine system, and the adrenals.
Nettle is appropriate for almost all chronic illnesses. It strengthens and gently stimulates the immune system without giving it the sudden jolt that garlic and Echinacea give. At the same time, it strengthens the entire organism, facilitates a gentle detoxification, and both treats and prevents anemia. Nettle is also anti- inflammatory and in addition, as if that weren’t enough, it facilitates the body’s ability to detoxify, both by chelating heavy metals and by improving the functioning of all the organs of elimination, including the gut, bladder, kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin.
By strengthening the lungs, both boosting and training the immune system, and decreasing inflammation throughout the body, nettle helps in all respiratory illnesses, including asthma, bronchitis, and even tuberculosis.
Similarly, nettle helps the digestive system become more effective. It improves absorption and treats both constipation and diarrhea. Nettle is both gently laxative and also astringent, gently drawing in and toning the tissues. In addition, it treats ulcers and has a healing influence on the mucous membranes in the gastrointestinal track, as a 2004 study confirms (Journal of Ethnopharmacology 90 (2004) 205–215). This combination makes it useful for IBS and IBD, and practically specific for Crohn’s disease. As an immunomodulation, it is appropriate for all autoimmune diseases.
This same study mentioned above confirms nettle’s usefulness as a rich source of antioxidants and as an antimicrobial effective in treating both gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial infections.
Nettle is useful for treating both rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lumbago, and sciatica. One may take the tincture or infusion to help with inflammation, and also follow the strange tradition of hitting oneself with nettle, or brushing up against nettle with the inflamed joints, much as I did with my finger in the Schwarzwald. When you deliberately court the sting it may elude you, of course, but when it does sting it helps both as a counter- irritant and as a counter-intuitive anti-inflammatory. You wouldn’t expect a sting to treat inflammation, but nettle does. Stranger still, although the sting causes pain, it also reduces any pain that was there before the sting.
Nettle helps stimulate the circulation, although it can also stop bleeding. It contains both vitamin K, which allows for blood clotting, and coumarin, which is a blood thinner. Because it helps the circulation and is full of antioxidants, it is a useful remedy for arteriosclerosis.
Nettle also helps regulate the menstrual cycle, prevents excessive menstrual bleeding, and both treats and prevents menstrual cramps. It also helps regulate the hormones more generally. As such, nettle is a wonderful ally in menopause as well, and as a Yin tonic it helps enormously with hot flashes.
Nettle tonifies the uterus and is an excellent herb for pregnant women. Because of its extraordinary nutritional load, it serves as a pregnancy multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement, and it also helps ensure a sufficient milk supply. New mothers continuing with nettle infusion will find their milk both plentiful and rich; you may literally feel yourself filling up after drinking the infusion.
Nettle helps treat inflammation in the urinary tract and is specific for kidney stones. It also strengthens the kidneys and bladder more generally, and acts as a diuretic to flush the urinary tract.
Nettle may also be useful to lower both blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Because of its high protein content, it would be useful in diabetes and hypoglycemia even if it didn’t lower blood sugar levels directly. Similarly, because of its high antioxidant value, its anti-inflammatory qualities, and its efficacy in improving circulation, it is good for the heart regardless of its effects of blood pressure.
Nettle root is among the most effective treatments for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia. Prepare or purchase the root as an alcohol- based tincture.
Nettle helps nourish and calm the adrenal glands. The leaves help the adrenals and the seeds help them even more. If you have a nettle patch near you, harvest the seeds in late fall and sprinkle them generously on your salads.
According to Kiva Rose, nettle seeds also improve mental function, emotional wellness, and energy level. She finds the fresh seeds strongly stimulant, and therefore recommends using them dried instead.
Freeze-dried nettle capsules treat seasonal allergies and hay fever. It is most effective to begin taking them in spring and continue throughout the allergy season.
Dioscorides and Hippocrates recommended fresh nettle juice for wounds. Because of the high vitamin K content and the astringent quality, nettle juice stops bleeding both when applied topically and when taken internally. An antiseptic as well as a hemostatic, it makes an appropriate poultice for cuts, abscesses, and ulcers. Use the juice, the dried leaves, or the blanched or steamed fresh leaves to prevent stinging. To possibly stop internal hemorrhaging, drink nettle juice. In Russian folk medicine, nettle leaves are rolled up and inserted into the nostrils to stop nose bleeds.
Nettle is used externally in Russian folk medicine as an emergency treatment for hypothermia. The person would be blanketed in nettles to stimulate the circulation. It is also used externally as a skin and hair treatment, including as a treatment for both acne and dandruff. Nettle helps stimulate hair growth. Use the infusion as a wash for the skin and a final rinse for the hair, or as an ingredient in hair conditioner and skin lotions.
Stinging nettle grows on farms, disturbed grounds, moist fields, railroad beds, meadows, and the edges of forests. It is part of the larger nettle family, the Urticaceae. It has opposite, heart-shaped lobed leaves, small needles moderately distributed along the stems branches, and tiny flowers that bloom late in summer. The flowers have four petals and four stamens and are radially symmetrical. Nettle grows 3.3 to 6.6 feet (1-2 meters) tall. It is best to harvest nettle in the spring and early summer, but I have harvested it in mid-August without ill effect.
Nettle works as a tincture, vinegar, long infusion, and, specifically for allergies, in pill form. Most often one uses the leaves, but for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia nettle root tincture is the appropriate remedy. For the adrenals, the seeds are most helpful. For nutritional support, the long infusion or any food preparation will be most helpful. For mineral support more specifically, the vinegar is most helpful.
The simplest way to prepare nettle as food is to fill a large basket with the leaves, remove the stems and chop the leaves coarsely. Next, put them into a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and allow them to simmer for 30-60 minutes. At that point, you may either eat the soup, preferably with a little miso added, or turn the heat off and let the soup continue steeping for as long as you can wait for it.
Nettle works as a cooked green in any recipe calling for greens. Simply sauté or braise it as you would kale.
Off-season, I use nettle powder to make wonderful herbal pesto. Use one tablespoon of nettle powder, one tablespoon of dulse powder, a head of garlic, and about 12 ounces of olive oil. If fresh cilantro or basil is available, chop up a tablespoon of each or either and add. If fresh nettle is available, blanch it first, then chop up finely and add about two tablespoons instead of the powdered.
Finally, when you need the nutritional power of nettle and don’t have time to prepare anything else, there’s always instant Nmorrel soup, so-called because it tastes like sorrel soup, but we make it with nettle and miso. Bring water to a boil, turn off the flame, and let the water sit and cool for a few minutes while putting a heaping teaspoon each of miso paste and nettle powder into a mug. Pour in the water, stir thoroughly, and enjoy!
Nettle is contraindicated for anyone with excessive platelet count. Also, while extremely unusual, allergy to nettle does exist and may cause skin rashes or dermatitis. If you have an allergic reaction, discontinue use immediately and try some plantain or calendula salve externally, and goldenrod tincture internally. Some herbalists advise against harvesting nettle when it is in bloom. Others use it throughout its growing season. I suggest using it primarily in spring and early summer, and occasionally later in the season.
- Susun Weed has written extensively about nettle as a nourishing tonic, and the popularity of nettle infusion is due largely to her efforts. In particular, see Healing Wise, pp. 165-190.
- http://esa.ipb.pt/pdf/RefPlants_20.pdf Journal of Ethnopharmacology 90 (2004) 205–215
- http://chto-polezno.ru/krapiva-poleznye-svojstva- primenenie.html
- http://bearmedicineherbals.com/nettle-seed-as-adrenal- trophorestorative-adaptogen.html
This article is reprinted from the March, 2014 issue of Natural Herbal Living Magazine.