A Medal for Nettle -
An incredible edible and medicinal herb
from "Taste for Life" magazine
Because of its sting,
nettle (Urtica dioica) has been a common metaphor for forbidding
landscapes and uninhabitable lands. Its family name means “to
burn” in Latin. Chemically, one of the toxins in nettle’s
microscopic hairs is also found in bee stings. Why, then, am I
singing the praises of stinging nettle?
for starters, the ancients recognized its benefits as well as
its sting. Similar to flax or hemp, nettles plant fiber has long
been the stuff of paper and textiles, for example. In Russia and
Sweden, nettles are grown and dried as fodder for livestock and
poultry. Alcoholic extracts of nettle (along with burdock, chamomile
and thyme) make useful hair and scalp preparations.
like spinach, young nettle tops make a tasty green vegetable.
The Scots combine it with broccoli or cabbage, leeks or onions,
and rice for a nutritious dish. If you want to try this, gather
the young tops before the greens get six inches high. Also substitute
young nettle leaves for spinach in vegetable lasagna.
we know that this herb is rich in vitamins A, C, and E as well
as other antioxidants that can help prevent cancer. The Irish
drink nettle tea to clear up the rash that characterizes measles.
For tea, use dried leaves, which no longer sting.
Carolina folk healers swear by nettle root for everything from
diarrhea and jaundice to hemorrhoids and other painful conditions.
And perhaps no plan (with the possible exception of dandelion,
dock, and elder) has been as medicinally important in the British
Isles as urtica. Stinging nettle shows up in several plots in
my “Green Farmacy Garden” 0 allergy, arthritis, asthma,
benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH), bronchitis, human immunodeficiency
virus, impotence, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, and premenstrual
syndrome- indicating that I consider it useful for these ailments.
Homeopathic practitioners prescribe a tincture of the flowering
plant for bee stings, burns, colic, gout, hemorrhaging, lactation,
rheumatism, sore throat vertigo, and whooping cough, among other
Here are some benefits that science is beginning to help us better
Allergies and asthma. Stinging nettle contains natural
antihistamine and anti-inflammatory substances, including quercetin,
that open up constricted bronchial and nasal passages. Some herbal
experts assert that no other natural remedy eases hay fever symptoms
so markedly. Clearly, Andrew Weil, MD, feels that freeze-dried
nettle is proven relief for hay fever, and this has been confirmed
in at least one controlled clinical trial.
suffering from what I call ‘incontenence of the nose’
after spending weeks on my hands and knees in my Maryland garden,
I cleared up what’s clinically knows as rhinorrhea with
stinging nettle instead of one of those expensive antihistamines.
Could stinging nettle pot ‘likker’ (from cooking its
leaves) be as effective for allergies and hay fever as Allegra
or Benadryl? I would add urtica dioica to the list of herbs that
should clinically compared to pharmaceuticals, many of which come
with significant toxicity and undesirable side effects (depression
interference with mental activity, and sedation). Somehow, I don’t
thin that will happen. After all, who besides the American public
would benefit it relatively inexpensive stinging nettle proved
a safe and efficacious as pharmaceuticals?
and Bones. Anti-inflammatory agents in nettle combine with its
rich concentrations of boron and silicon to help ease the pain
of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as tendonitis
and bursitis. Boron also helps our bones retain calcium, so it’s
no surprise that nettle has shown some benefit against osteoporosis.
many native cultures, people with arthritis often sting themselves
with nettle. It appears that the body mounts and antihistamine
attack in response to the injection of the histaminic compounds
in nettle’s mild toxins. It seems that the antihistamines
the body creates go to the arthritic joint, while others go to
soothe the nettle’s sting. In this case, the histamines
work a little differently from way they do with allergies and
of the nettle’s natural antihistamines go to the arthritic
joints as well. Researchers have observed local anesthetic and
analgesic effects. And at least on phenol in this herb has been
shown to stall leukotriene synthesis. A combination of these and
other actions may explain nettle’s anti-inflammatory benefits.
and Urinary Problems. Extracts of nettle root are reliable diuretics
that encourage excretion, especially of uric acid (a culprit in
gout). Stimulating urination helps treat bladder and kidney stones
as well as urinary tract infections. Substances in nettle root
increase the volume of urine and maximum urinary flow, while reducing
residual urine. But, simultaneously, this herb also discourages
nighttime urges to urinate. This somewhat unusual dichotomy makes
stinging nettle a notable aid against such disparate conditions
as bedwetting gout, and (according to one small study) the overnight
urinary pressures of BPH (enlargement of the prostate).
extracts also appear to inhibit the binding of sex hormone globulin
on human prostatic membranes. Since research suggest that testosterone
and other hormones are an important issue in prostate cell growth,
nettle may be particularly useful for men as they grow older.
My physician tells me to ‘keep up whatever you’re
doing to prevent BPH” after my annual exam, so this is another
reason to keep adding nettle to my soup and greens.
randomized, multicenter, double-blind clinical trial compared
a combination saw palmetto-nettle supplement with the drug finasteride
in men with BP. The herbal product appeared to be just as effective,
with fewer adverse effects (including erectile dysfunction and
headaches). If you don’t have stinging nettle growing out
behind the barn like I do, ask your favorite natural products
store to recommend a product, and follow label directions carefully.
But always consult a healthcare provider about prostate enlargement
and urinary problems. Never self-medicate for BPH: Establishing
baseline prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels is advised before
considering herbal treatment.
There are no known contraindications, health hazards, or side
effects in conjunction with careful use of therapeutic doses of
nettle. However, some rare complaints of upsets from root products
have been reported.
In the Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook, I give
nettle my highest safety rating, meaning it’s safer than
drinking coffee. Since hospitals kill hundreds of thousands of
Americans annually not, not to mention deaths due to prostate
cancer, I’ll settle on drinking nettle tea, and snacking
on a few pumpkin seeds and Brazil nuts, for prostate protection.
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical databases, Duke
The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook by James A. Duke PhD
Herbs of the Bible, 2000 Years of Plant Medicine by James A. Duke PhD