Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Urtica_flowersMy first encounter with stinging nettle was when I got “bit” by the plant as a child.  Nettles have hairs filled with  a mixture of substances that include histamine and formic acid which cause inflammation and pain. As a result nettle stings will raise a rash.  

The Latin name for this plant is Urtica, with the two most common species being Urtica dioica and U. urens.  Interestingly enough hives is officially known as urticaria, linking rashes to this plant.

For many years I steered clear of this plant. Then, in my teens, I learned it was edible. So, on a camping trip when I was 15, I found a patch of nettles, cooked them, and ate them.  They were delicious. It was a life changing experience for me and was part of what got me started as an herbalist.

Later, I learned that the plant is so nutrititious it probably has to sting animals to protect itself from being eaten by everyone.  Nettles are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. These minerals give nettles their slightly salty flavor. Nettles are also high in protein (about 25-42%) and various B vitamins as well as vitamins C, D and K. 

Boiling the leaves in water for five minutes removes the sting, and the leaves have a flavor similar to spinach.  Drying the leaves also removes the sting. Dried nettle leaves can be mixed into soups and stews or made into a decoction for drinking.

Nettles and Iron

Nettles are rich in a highly assimilatable form of iron. I once had a case involving a vegan woman who was severely anemic.  At my recommendation she bought marshmallow and nettles in bulk,  simmered them as a decoction, and blended them in her blender.  She then drank the mixture without straining it.  Her iron levels responded by rising dramatically within weeks.  This shows the incredible nourishing power of this food herb.

The high iron content of nettles is one of the reasons they are included in the blood-building formula I-X.  The nourishing qualities of nettles are also responsible for its ability to increase the production and nutritional value of breast milk.

A good tonic tea for pregnancy is equal parts nettle leaf, red raspberry leaf and alfalfa.  You can also add some peppermint for flavoring.  Pregnant women can brew and drink a quart of this tea a day and it helps them have a healthier pregnancy, easier delivery and a healthier baby.

stinging nettleNettles for Allergies

I find nettle a very useful remedy for treating allergies. I mentioned earlier that the stinging hairs contain histamine (which is involved in allergic reactions) and formic acid (which causes ant bites to sting).  So, this may be one of those “hair of the dog that bit you remedies.”  I recently read that the amino acid l-histadine, which is a precursor to histamine, actually helps reduce allergies, as well, so there may be some merit to this.

Nettle is found in HistaBlock, which is used as a natural antihistamnie.  I typically combine nettles with golden rod and eyebright for allergies. Freeze-dried nettle leaf has also proven useful for food allergies.

Nettle for Arthritis and Gout

Besides histamine, the stingers also contain serotonin and acetylcholine. I don’t know if these substances are partially responsible for another use of nettle, but it’s one that I’ve never been brave enough to try.  It’s flogging an arthritic joint with nettles.  This is still done in some European countries and the practice dates back to the Roman times. Of course, it stings at first, but then supposedly it turns into a tingling sensation and then the pain in the joint is gone for a while.

There are less masochistic ways to get relief from nettle, however.  Taking nettle taken internally also has a healing effect on arthritis and gout. In fact, nettles is an excellent remedy for gout because it aids the kidneys in flushing uric acid from the body, which leads directly into its effects on the kidneys.

Nettles as a Urinary Remedy

Nettles is also an excellent remedy for problems in the kidneys.  It will break up and remove coarse material from the bladder and increase the flow of urine. It is a non-irritating diuretic and safe to use in chronic kidney problems and kidney inflammation.  It is a highly alkalizing remedy because of its ability to help the kidneys flush acid waste from the body.  

As an interesting signature, nettles actually thrive near the compost pile or over an old out-house pit, anywhere where a large amount of urine and fecal matter has been concentrated.  They help break this waste material down. This may also be why Rudolph Steiner found that a small amount of nettle added to a compost pile, accelerates the formation of the compost and makes it richer.

The seeds of the nettle are a specific for kidney failure, a fact that was discovered by AHG herbalist David Winston. Having learned this, I’ve used the tincture of nettle seed on a number of people suffering from renal failure or chronic kidney disease with good success.  I’ve also used KB-C with nettle seed, which seems to have an even better effect.

Nettle Root as a Prostate Remedy

Nettle root is a good prostate remedy.  Clinical trials confirmed its benefit on benign prostatic hyperplasia, which is why nettle root is included in Men’s Formula. The herb appears to block the action of sex hormones which overstimulate the prostate tissue.

Low Blood Pressure and Nettles

The Australian naturopath Dorothy Hall paints an interesting picture of the person who needs nettles.  She says that the nettle person has low blood pressure, looks half alseep and yawns or signs a lot.  Their eyelids tend to droop and their movement is slow. People tell them to get more rest, but rest doesn’t help.  They really need more activity.

The person who needs nettles may have a difficult time waking up in the morning and suffer memory lapses due to poor blood flow to the brain. They may also have problems with erectile dysfunction, again due to poor blood flow.  She claims that nettles helps this person have more energy and improves their health all the way around.So, generally speaking, if you see a pale, anemic looking person who seems tired all the time, they may benefit from using nettles.

Urtica_dioica38_iesOther Benefits of Nettles

Besides being nourishing and diuretic, nettles are also are anti-inflammatory and slightly astringent.  The astringent properties of nettles make it useful for stopping nosebleeds and heavy menstrual bleeding.  It is especially valuable for heavy menstrual bleeding because it also helps overcome the anemia associated with it.  This is why it is included in the formula Mesnstrual-Reg for heavy menstrual bleeding.

Matthew Wood indicates that nettles has helped to rebuild the thyroid gland when it has been damaged or destroyed.  So, this might be a good remedy to consider if you have low thyroid, too.

Amanda Crawford also gave me a good emotional indication for nettles. Nettles is a good remedy for people who are nurturing and nourishing of others, but sometimes let other people take advantage of them. It helps you put up your emotional defenses so you can screen out the people who would harm you.  This signature seems to fit the character of nettles very well.

I believed that if nettles were approached with gentleness and love that they would not sting you.  I taught this to my kids and once watched fascinated as my two sons petted a nettle plant for 20 minutes telling it how beautiful it was and how much the loved it.  They were never stung.  Part of the secret is that the barbs go only one way.  If you pet one direction they won’t sting, pet the other and you’ll probably get stung.

I respect nettles and their power to “sting,” but I respect them even more as a valuable herbal ally in nourishing our bodies and helping them to heal.

 Selected References

The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier
PDR for Herbal Medicines by Medical Economics Company

The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood
Creating Your Herbal Profile by Dorothy Hall
The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood

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