Have you been outside picking weeds, grabbed a plant that looked like no problem–only to end up with stinging and rashes that were a nightmare?
Chances are that you encountered the Stinging Nettle.
The Stinging Nettle is a the gloveless gardener's and curious plant lover's nightmare. It doesn't have thorns or prickers that are obvious to the eye, but instead it has fine hairs that look innocent enough, but they aren't. However, once you get past its almost invisible prickers, there is a powerhouse of healing in that plant. The Benefits of Stinging Nettle are many.
Just the other day, I was bringing out our dried nettle for yet another ailment, and my youngest said, “ANOTHER thing that nettle is good for?! Wow!”
and so I knew I needed to share.
Since we started on our natural-living quest years ago, I've made so many changes to our lives. We've gone to a completely gluten-free diet, we eat lower carb due to candida issues, have removed artificial colors, etc., out of our diets, eat as much organic as possible, and use natural healing remedies as often as possible. And we've cleaned up our personal care products and home care products.
One of the most interesting and fascinating things about this journey, however, has been learning about the world of herbs, spices, berries and more.
Plants have so much power in them. For centuries, herbs and other natural remedies were most of what people had for medicinal care. And in case you didn't know it, many pharmaceuticals are made from plants so it's not as if the medical community isn't aware of these benefits–they just choose to change them to make more money off of them. There's not as much money in dried herbs, you see.
Today, we're turning our attention to the Stinging Nettle.
What is Stinging Nettle?
Stinging Nettle's botanical name is Urtica dioica.
Stinging nettle is often called common nettle, stinging nettle or nettle leaf and it is an herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the family Urticaceae.
Why does Stinging Nettle Sting?
If you've ever picked a stinging nettle plant by mistake, you know how that feels. Ouch!
The Stinging Nettle plant has lots of fine hairs (trichomes) on the leaves and stems that contain irritating chemicals. These chemicals are released when the plant comes in contact with the skin.
When you brush up against them, you break off the fragile silica tip and the hair then acts like a needle, piercing the skin and causing the chemical on the nettle to be injected into the skin.
What is curious, however, is that when these stinging hairs, or spines, of the stinging nettle plant come into contact with and area of the body that is experiencing pain, they can actually decrease the original pain. Scientists think nettle does this by reducing levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body, and interfering with the way the body transmits pain signals.
Stinging Nettle Venom
What is in stinging nettle that makes it sting?
There are actually a bunch of substances in the Stinging Nettle plant that cause the problems:
From what I have read, the acetylcholine and serotonin cause the stinging and the acids cause it to last longer. The tartaric and oxalic acids aren't in all species of Stinging Nettle, but when they are present this is their function.
Serotonin is an odd one on this list. It's typically thought of as something that makes you feel good, but it doesn't feel good injected into your skin :).
What's interesting as well, is that scientists think that any one of these ingredients alone isn't enough to cause as much discomfort as one typically gets from the Stinging Nettle plant, but that in combination, the effects might be enhanced.
This is something to consider when you hear people say “well, this synthetic chemical hasn't been shown to cause any damage”–because synthetics typically haven't been studied in combination with others. Now of course, we're talking about natural substances here and not synthetic chemicals–I'm just sharing something to be considered.
Stinging Nettle Benefits
Despite all of the irritation that the Stinging Nettle plant can cause, it's a nutritional powerhouse to be reckoned with. It's loaded with protein, fiber, fat, phenolic compounds, carotenoids, tannin, and anti-oxidants. (source)
There is even a Tibetan Buddhist figure named Milarepa who is said to have subsisted only on nettles for years–he apparently even turned green in the process. Hmmmm…
Now, I'm for sure not suggesting that as a dietary regimen, but it's interesting nonetheless.
Stinging Nettle has a long medicinal history. In medieval times, it was used as a diuretic and to treat joint pain.
Following are some of the stinging nettle benefits that have been proven:
Nettle has been shows to have beneficial effect on high blood pressure which backs up it being widely used in Morocco for hypertension (source).
This study states that Stinging Nettle use in the treatment of prevention of cardiac disease is warranted.
Prostate health and Urinary Issues
Another of the many stinging nettle benefits is that nettle has been shown to stop or slow the growth of prostate cancer cells. It has also been shown to be beneficial in treating BPH (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia – enlarged prostrate gland).
Stinging Nettle is a well-known on the list of natural allergy remedies. Well, if you feel better during allergy season after using nettle, it's not all in your head. It has been shown that there are bioactives in Stinging Nettle that inhibit the pro-inflammatory pathways related to allergic rhinitis.
Now above, I mentioned that histamine is one of the components of the Stinging Nettle that makes it sting. It would seem counterintuitive that something with histamine could actually help treat allergies, but there is research showing that to be the case. (source)
I suffered horribly from hayfever in my teens and twenties. You'd better believe that I have nettle in my pantry all the time! (source)
Joint Pain, Osteoarthritis & Other Inflammatory Conditions
Stinging nettle leaf extracts are actually registered in Germany for therapy of rheumatic diseases. It's an adjuvant therapy meaning that it is used alongside other mechanisms to make them work better.
Nettle has been used for internal bleeding, including uterine, nose bleeding and bowel bleeding. As it turns out, this might be a valid use.
Although it is only one of the components, nettle is part of the Ankaferd Blood Stopper, an herbal blend that has been proven to be effective in stopping bleeding. (source)
Burns are a horrible trauma to the body. Several things need to occur for the body to heal itself after a burn occurs and there are many concerns, one of them being infection. The main goal of burn healing is to accelerate skin healing and prevent infection. To that end, often silver sulfadiazine and vaseline are employed.
However, in this study, Stinging Nettle was shown to be more effective than traditional burn treatments using silver sulfadiazine and vaseline. (source) Just amazing!
Insulin Resistance & Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes is a disease that often leads to devastating damage to the body including inflammation that can lead to cardiac issues. IL-6 (interleuken-6) is a big factor in this disease and is secreted by fat tissue. (source)
Believe it or not, Stinging Nettle has also been shown to be effective in modulating these key players in Type 2 Diabetes (source), making it something that one could consider if one is thinking about preventing diabetes.
Other Stinging Nettle Benefits:
Over many many years, many health stinging nettle benefits have been noted. Following are some of the benefits that have been reported, but these do need further study:
promote hair growth
boosting immune system
supporting adrenal health
treat kidney disorders (source)
preventing and treating diarrhea
decrease menstrual flow
provide asthma relief
stimulate contractions in pregnancy
treat insect bites
promoting skin and nail health
supporting thyroid health
Ways to Use Nettle
Now that you know about the many stinging nettle benefits, the question is–how do you use this tricky stingy plant?
There are many ways to use Nettle. I will be writing more about these, but here is a quick list of ways to use nettle.
You can buy or make the following:
Eaten as Vegetable
Clothing (yes, it's true)
I likely will not be telling you how to make your own clothing out of nettle, but we will talk about all of the rest of these in the near future.
Where Can You Buy Nettle?
You can find a great source or two for nettle in the herb section of my Resources Page.
I don't know about you, but I'm pretty overwhelmed by all that this plant can do.
So the next time you are tempted to curse the existence of that plant, put on some gloves instead, and be thankful for its presence!