Each plant is made up of thousands of chemicals. This is why so many herbs are useful for so many different things. I have a handful of herbs that are my “go to” herbs for just about everything I need. Today I'm going to share one of my favorites out of that list. Nettle.
Stinging Nettle, or Urtica dioca, is the most commonly used nettle, but you can also use the Florida native nettle in the same ways. The Florida nettle is Urtica chamaedryoides, commonly known as either heart leaf nettle, or fireweed. Nettles are notorious for their “sting,” which is why the heart leaf nettle has the name “fireweed.” They have little hairs all over their leaves and stems which contain a toxic compound. These hairs are more like tiny needles that inject this compound into whatever touches them. This compound is actually very very similar to the toxin used by fire ants. Depending on the species of nettle you might have come across, the sting can last for as little as 7 minutes, or go on for several hours. Unfortunately the heart leaf nettle is one nettle with a really long sting, as well as being one of the smaller nettles. Despite all of this, throughout history humans have eaten nettles. Once you cook them, the “sting” goes away so that they are safe to consume. Several different cultures have adapted nettles into their diets, so much so that almost every culture has a form of nettle soup. But the most common way that nettle is eaten, is as a potherb. Basically this means that you pick a pot full of nettle, add a little moisture, and cook it. Those of us in the South might immediately think of dishes such as collard greens, or mustard greens. Yup. That's how people usually cook nettle. And, it's delicious!
All parts of the nettle plant can be used both in the kitchen and for medicinal benefit. There are slight variations as to how you use the root verses the above-ground parts. I tend to mainly use the leaves and stems, largely because I order the dried leaves in bulk, but also because I can continually harvest the leaves while digging up the root can only be done once. However, the root does offer some amazing benefits that may be worth it if you have a particularly prolific patch of nettles in your garden or yard. You can easily purchase nettle leaf in it's dried form at most herb purveyors. However you can also find it as a tincture (an alcohol extract), as a tea, or as a capsule. Some places also have nettle root tinctures. You can also find it easily in nature. Just remember to wear thick gloves when you harvest.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)- Nettles are cool and dry. They nourish the yin, which is the quiet, cooling, and moistening fluid (and nature) of the body. Nettle strengthens and heals the lungs, nourishes the skin, detoxifies the body, reduces tumors, dissolves stones, drains fluids, dries damp conditions, reduces infection, builds blood, enriches both liver and kidney yin, stops bleeding and hemorrhage, helps regulate metabolism, nourishes connective tissue, promotes lactation, and replenishes blood after giving birth.
Ayurveda- Nettles are an excellent rasayana (rejuvenator) and nourishing tonic, especially for the kidneys and adrenals. They increase ojas, which is the essence that gives strength to the body, improves immunity, and takes care of the well-being of the body as a whole. Nettle stimulates the actions of the liver and kidneys, which helps to detoxify the body. Nettles help to clear excess pitta and kapha from the system which helps to improve skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis. In mild doses, it can help to alleviate common vata conditions in the intestines (gas, bloating, etc), but it can increase vata when taken in excess.
Allergies- Nettles are amazingly anti-inflammatory which helps in a lot of situations. However one major effect this has is that nettle helps improve the symptoms of hay fever. Nettles also contain a pretty high amount of histamine, which one might think is bad for allergies, but is actually one of the reasons nettles help to reduce the amount of allergy attacks you may have in allergy season. For hay fever, I recommend making a super strong tea, with nettle leaves, and drinking it throughout the day. You can improve the flavor with mint, but I like it just by itself.
Nourishment- Nettle is considered a super food because of it's high content of vitamins and minerals. Nettles are a great source of the vitamins A, C, D, and K, as well as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and sulfur. Nettles are also a major source of plant-based protein.
Pregnancy- Not only is nettle a great source of vitamins and minerals that are needed for both mom and baby, they also help to improve the health of your reproductive system as a whole. This makes it easier to conceive, carry, and deliver a child. Nettle also helps prepare your uterus for the process of labor, helping to speed up the labor process, especially when used with red raspberry leaves. You can make a strong tea of nettle and raspberry leaves, then freeze it so that mom can suck on herbal ice during labor. The high amounts of vitamin K helps prevent hemorrhage during labor as well, as it's a major blood clotting agent. I usually recommend drinking a strong raspberry and nettle infusion 3 times a day during the last few weeks of your pregnancy, and once a day for the entire pregnancy. Use caution in the first trimester as nettle also stimulates menstrual flow, so consuming to much at the beginning of your pregnancy could cause some problems. However, after the first trimester, nettle is perfectly safe to use on a regular basis.
Arthritis- For hundreds of years, little old ladys have been harvesting nettles bare handed. Eek! However, they have a great reason for doing so. Nettles have a great anti-inflammatory effect, as well a pain relieving effect on arthritic joints. Even the sting can help reduce arthritis pain. Now it's not necessary, as you can get many of the same effects by drinking nettle tea, but it is one way to help ease arthritic symptoms.
Cardiovascular Health- The combination of vitamin C and iron help to stimulate blood cell production. This combination also makes nettles ideal to help prevent and treat anemia. There have also been several studies that show nettles have an effect on lowering blood pressure, so check with your doctor if you are on blood pressure medications.
Urinary and Prostate Health- Nettle is useful to help tone the kidneys as well as to break down both gallbladder and kidney stones. It's also a diuretic which helps the body get rid of toxins faster. This can help prevent infections. But nettle has a special place in prostate health as well. It helps to prevent prostate growth, but it cannot reduce growth, just prevent it.
Skin, Hair, and Nail- Along with providing the proper vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy skin, hair, and nails, nettle also works well externally. Salves including nettle can help with many burns, eczema, and psoriasis. Nettle salves can also help speed healing, reduce the appearance of scars, and help keep your skin looking young. Washes (strong teas) made with nettle help to reduce instances of acne, itchy scalp, and dandruff. These same washes help stimulate hair growth in cases of thinning hair.
Summary of actions- Traditionally used in Europe as a blood purifier and blood builder. Nettle is nutritive, hypotensive, diuretic, laxative, antioxidant, astringent, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, sedative, nervine, anti-anaphylactic, anti-rheumatic, anti-asthmatic, anti-convulsant, anti-dandruff, anti-histamine, decongestant, depurative, hemostatic, galactagogue, immunomodulator, hypoglycaemic, and CNS-depressant. Nettle is both a prostate tonic and stimulating tonic.
I only included a basic introduction to this amazing herb. I hope you have learned a new appreciation for how amazing nettle is. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
April Crowell: Nourishing with Stinging Nettles: http://aprilcrowell.com/asian-medicine/nourishing-with-stinging-nettles/
Chinese Herbs: Stinging Nettle and it's Multiple Benefits: http://www.chinese-herbs.org/stinging-nettle/
Herb Wisdom: Stinging Nettle Benefits: http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-nettle.html
Medicinal Plants: Stinging Nettle: http://medicinalplants.us/stinging-nettle-background-actions
Organic Facts: 11 Amazing Benefits of Stinging Nettle: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/stinging-nettle.html
Purusha Ayurveda: Nettles, an Ayurvedic Perspective: http://www.purushaayurveda.com/articles/2016/3/24/nettles-the-ayurvedic-perspective
Wellness Mama: Nettle Herb Profile: https://wellnessmama.com/4807/nettle-herb-profile/
Whole New Mom: 7 Proven Health Benefits of Stinging Nettle: https://wholenewmom.com/health-concerns/benefits-of-stinging-nettle/