Nettle commonly grows in backyards and gardens, but did you know that this weed can also have profound benefits for your body? In fact, nettle is a popular herbal medicine in many parts of the world. Here’s one way to reap its benefits: Use nettle oil. Discover the uses of this lesser-known but equally versatile herbal oil.
What Is Nettle Oil?
Nettle oil or nettle extract comes from Urtica dioica, a creeping, fibrous perennial plant from the Urticaceae plant family.1 Nettle, also known as hemp nettle, white nettle or devil’s leaf, is native to Eurasia, but now grows wild across the U.S. and other parts of the globe. It can be found in temperate regions, from Japan to the Andes Mountains.2
Nettle can be identified by its creeping yellow roots, small green flowers, and ovate, pointed and toothed leaves that are covered with bristly stinging hair that can pierce the skin upon contact — hence, it’s more popular nickname, “stinging nettle.” In fact, the common name “nettle” actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “noedl,” which means "needle." Its hairy, erect, single stalks grow in clusters, giving it a bushy appearance. The plant can grow as tall as 4 feet (1.2 meters).3
Nettle has a long history of use as food and medicine. Its fibers are even said to have been used to make cloth.4 However, don’t be so quick to touch it — the fine hairs all over the plant release formic acid, histamine and acetylcholine, chemicals that can cause pain and irritation when they come in contact with the skin.5
But here’s what’s unique about this plant: If the hairs come in contact with a part of your body that’s in pain, the original pain can decrease. It’s said to be so effective that it’s the primary material used in the process of urtication: deliberately stinging the skin with nettles.6
According to an article published by PennState Hershey, scientists believe this is because nettle can minimize your body’s levels of inflammatory chemicals. It can also interfere with the way pain is transmitted in your body.7 A 2013 study published in Phytomedicine found that nettle extract may be even more effective than traditional tinctures in easing inflammatory disorders.8
Nettle oil is usually extracted from the leaves and stems of the plant. Nettle oil is commonly added to many personal care products, such as soap and hair conditioner. It can also be taken in capsule form.9
Uses of Nettle Oil
According to Mother Earth News, nettle has been used for over 2,000 years to stop all kinds of internal and external bleeding. Many healers also considered it a good blood purifier. Nettle can be taken as a tea, to help clear mucus congestion, skin irritation, diarrhea and water retention.10 On the other hand, you can use nettle oil by:
• Adding it to your shampoo and other hair products: Nettle oil not only promotes healthy hair growth, but can also help scalp conditions like psoriasis and dandruff. Massage it onto your hair and wrap a towel around your head. Leave the oil on your scalp overnight and then rinse out the next day.11
• Mixing it with a safe carrier oil and massaging it on your skin: According to Stylecraze, topical application of nettle oil may help ease insect bites, eczema and chickenpox.12
Composition of Nettle Oil
Some of the major components found in nettle include thymol, carvacrol, cymene, anisole, terpene, phenylpropene derivatives and eucalyptol.16 The leaves, which are commonly used to make nettle oil infusion, contain provitamin A, vitamins B1 and K, sistosterin and xanthophylls.17
Benefits of Nettle Oil
Stinging nettle is a useful herbal remedy, and is considered one of nature’s best nutraceuticals because it contains protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, making it an ideal all-around tonic.18,19 It also has anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic, antirheumatic, anticonvulsant, antihistamine, hypotensive and anti-anaphylactic properties.20 These beneficial effects can be passed on to the essential oil as well.
People who suffer from inflammation-related disorders like rheumatism, arthritis and osteoporosis can benefit from nettle oil.21 It has also shown promise in helping skin abrasions and burns to heal.22
How to Make Nettle Oil Infusion
If you want to reap the benefits of nettle oil, you can make a simple nettle oil infusion at home. Here’s a step-by-step procedure:23
How to Make Nettle Oil Infusion
1. Harvest fresh nettle leaves and stems (make sure you’re wearing protective gloves to avoid being stung) and pack them in a large glass container.
2. Immerse the leaves and stems completely with olive oil.
3. Cover with a lid tightly and leave on a sunny windowsill for two to three weeks. Make sure you stir it daily.
4. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth. Store in a dark glass container, in a cool place away from sunlight.
How Does Nettle Oil Work?
Nettle and nettle oil contain biologically active compounds that suppress inflammation, which may be responsible for its many healing properties.24 When taken orally, products or extracts made from nettle’s aerial parts may also help interfere with the body’s production of prostaglandin, as well as other inflammation-causing chemicals.25 Please remember to consult a qualified physician prior to using nettle or nettle oil, especially when taking it orally.
Is Nettle Oil Safe?
Yes, it is. However, if you suffer from any allergy or sensitivity to nettle or plants in the same family, it’s better if you avoid using nettle oil, whether topically or orally.26 It is also advisable to avoid using nettle oil at full strength, and instead to dilute it in a safe carrier oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil.
To ensure that you will not experience any allergic reaction to nettle oil, do a skin patch test before using the oil. It’s pretty basic: Just apply a drop of nettle oil on your arm. If any itchiness or reaction occurs, avoid using the oil. I do not recommend it for pregnant women and breastfeeding moms, as there are no studies that guarantee its safety for these conditions.
Side Effects of Nettle Oil
Stinging nettle and its essential oil (when ingested) may result in mild side effects, such as rashes, stomach upset and fluid retention. It may also interact with sedatives and medications for blood clotting, diabetes and high blood pressure , so consult your health care practitioner before using it,27 particularly if you’re suffering from any type of ailment.