Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a common sight in backyards and gardens, although it’s often weeded out and thrown aside, sometimes even avoided because of its stinging properties. But remember that whenever you discard this weed, know that you’re also ignoring the health benefits that you can get from it.
The first documented use of this herb was when Roman soldiers battled the cold by rubbing the leaves on their arms to induce inflammation and irritation. It has now spread across the world and has been used by medical practitioners since the 19th century because of its abundance of chemicals and compounds that can help the body function optimally.
But even though the medicinal importance of nettle has been established through numerous studies, its image is still usually overshadowed by the fact that it’s still an unwelcome member of your garden.1 The nettle plant can be differentiated from other plants through its leaves. The nettle leaf has an ovate shape with deeply serrated edges.
These leaves also have long stinging hairs that inject chemicals into the skin when you accidentally touch or brush past them. These hairs often cause pain and can even cause skin inflammation in the affected area, which is commonly known as nettle rash.2 Even though nettle is often avoided and deemed as a useless plant, it has been the subject of numerous studies that prove its worth. Continue reading to know more about the health benefits and uses of this common herb.
Nettle Benefits: What Can You Get From This Weed?
Nettle contains impressive amounts of vitamins and minerals. Some of the vitamins it contains include vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. It also contains amino acids and antioxidants, which help in fighting off free radicals.3 Aside from these, here are a few more health benefits you can get from this herb:
• Helps detoxify the body. Nettle is a diuretic, which means that it helps in flushing out harmful chemicals and excess liquids from the body.4 Herbalists have prescribed the use of nettle in treating urinary tract infections as well, because of its ability to cleanse and dispel toxins. This herb has also been called a “spring tonic,” which is a substance intended to cleanse the body after winter.5
• Promotes healthy blood circulation and cardiovascular health. Nettle contains high amounts of iron and vitamin C. Vitamin C improves the body’s absorption of iron, which aids in alleviating anemia and fatigue. This herb also contains a considerable amount of potassium, a mineral that reduces tension in your arteries and blood vessels, lowering your risk for heart attacks and strokes.6
• Alleviates allergic reactions. While physical contact with the nettle leaf can cause allergic reactions, the ingestion of nettle tea is known to help dampen the body’s response to allergens by binding with the body’s histamine receptors. It can be used to aid in the prevention of rhinitis, or the inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose.7
• Reduces arthritis pain. The antioxidant properties of the nettle plant have been observed to help minimize inflammation. It can be used topically to help relieve joint pain as well.8
Studies also suggest that it may have a positive effect on the prostate and may aid in the prevention of benign prostate hyperplasia, which is the noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. It’s not yet firmly established how nettle affects this condition, but studies show that this herb limits and regulates the amount of testosterone produced by the body.9
Here’s How You Can Use Nettle in Your Everyday Life
The good news is that there are numerous nettle products that are available in the market today that makes it easy for people to use this herb in various ways. Here are some examples of how you can use nettle:
• As a capsule or a tincture. Nettle capsules are commonly administered to help the body deal with hay fever. Nettle tinctures are usually made with dried leaves, but they can also be made with nettle roots.10 For seasonal allergies, the recommended dosage is 250 milligrams thrice a day. Consult a physician to make sure that you are taking an adequate supply or if it is even recommended for you.11
• As an extract. The juice or extract of the nettle plant is used topically to alleviate rheumatic pain and promote wound healing. Fresh leaves of nettle can also be applied to arthritic joints to minimize the inflammation through the process of urtification.12
• As a powder. Nettle root powder is usually added to teas, tinctures and smoothies. If ingested, stinging nettle powder may promote healthy digestion and aid in stomach problems.13
Nettle plant fibers are also used in weaving strong garments and other fabrics. It was used as an alternative to cotton during World War I and World War II, but has now been replaced with cheaper materials. Some clothing industries, on the other hand, are now starting to consider nettle as a more environment-friendly alternative to other sources of fabric.14
Grow Your Own Nettle in Your Backyard
While some people would think it’s a bad idea to plant nettles, it can actually be a great idea if you’re familiar with all the benefits you receive from it. Some people actually voluntarily grow this plant to deter foraging animals from feeding on their greens and other garden produce. Having your own source of nettle also gives you the freedom to harvest the leaves at any time, whenever the need arises. Follow this guide to know how to grow your own nettle and properly care for this herb:15
1. Choose a spot in your garden with rich and moist soil. Make sure that you plant nettle at a considerable distance from other plants to avoid it interfering with their development.
2. Sow nettle seeds in rows and lightly cover with about a 1/4 inch of soil. Keep the soil moist. Seeds will start to germinate after about 14 days.
3. Nettle leaves are ready to harvest after about 80 to 90 days. It’s best to harvest nettle leaves in the first week of spring when the leaves are young. Make sure to use gloves or any protective materials to avoid getting stung.
Try These Delicious and Healthy Nettle Recipes
Aside from using nettle leaves for medicinal purposes, nettle can also be used to add flavor to numerous dishes. People note that nettle tastes like spinach, but with a stronger flavor. However, nettle leaves should be cooked before eating to get rid of the “sting.” Nettle is often ingested in tea form, which has been observed to have potent effects on the body. This is probably because of the numerous flavonoids and minerals that seep out from the leaves.
Some of the benefits of nettle tea include improving skin health, assisting in digestion, and boosting the immune system. Below is a nettle tea recipe from BBC Good Food that is packed with numerous health benefits:16
Stinging Nettle Tea
- 1 cup of nettle leaves
- 4 cups of water
- 1 tablespoon raw honey (optional)
1. Harvest nettle leaves with as little stem as possible. Note that older nettle leaves usually have a sweeter flavor.
2. Place leaves in a large saucepan with 4 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Using a strainer, separate the tea from the leaves. Discard the leaves, and serve the beverage hot. Add honey if needed.
Creamy and Hearty Nettle Soup
- 100 grams raw butter
- 1 large leek or 2 medium-sized leeks, chopped
- 4 cups nettle tops, chopped
- 450 grams of organic potatoes, sliced
- 1 liter homemade chicken stock
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 150 ml unpasteurized cream
1. Heat the butter until foaming. Add the chopped leeks and nettle tops. Cook until they look glossy.
2. Add the potatoes, and then mix in chicken stock.
3. Simmer for 30 to 35 minutes.
4. Sieve or liquidize the soup. Return to heat and season to taste. Add the cream.
5. Serve hot.
Earth Shake Smoothie
1. Boil the nettle leaves for two minutes, stirring constantly. Reserve the water, which can be used as nettle tea.
2. Add nettle leaves, kale, banana, apple, coconut water and avocado to a blender. Blend on high until desired consistency. Serve immediately.
(Recipe adapted from Learning Herbs)
Make Your Own Supply of Infused Nettle Oil
The essential oil of the nettle plant can also be used in a variety of ways. Here are some of the easy applications you can try:
• Add to hair products. Nettle oil can be used to promote hair growth and regulate oil production. Try adding nettle oil to your shampoo or conditioner. Massage nettle-infused shampoo and leave on your scalp for a minute or two before rinsing thoroughly.
• Add a few drops to your soap. Adding nettle oil to your soap helps in moisturizing dry skin and alleviating skin redness and irritation.
• Use as a massage oil. Using nettle oil as a massage oil can help in preventing the formation of wrinkles. Make sure to dilute it first in a safe carrier oil before applying onto your body.
You should also do a skin patch test prior to use to ensure that you have no allergic reactions to this oil. Nettle oil is available in the market, but it’s also possible to make it yourself. Follow this guide to make your own infused nettle oil from scratch:
How to Make Infused Nettle Oil
- Dried nettle leaves and stems
- Carrier oil (olive oil or coconut oil)
1. Place the dried nettle leaves and stems into a glass container and pour in the carrier oil. Seal the lid tightly.
2. Leave the container on a sunny windowsill for two to three weeks. Stir the mixture daily.
3. After two or three weeks, strain the mixture using cheesecloth. Discard dried leaves and stems.
4. Place the oil in a dark glass container and keep away from sunlight.
A Few Reminders Before Using Nettle
Nettle offers impressive amounts of health benefits to help the body function more optimally, but it should still be noted that there are contraindications on the use of this herb. Nettle, despite the variety of health benefits it offers, can still interfere with numerous medications and cause a variety of adverse health effects if taken without the supervision or recommendation of a healthcare professional. Be sure to inquire if it is safe to use this herb and in what form it is advisable.
Pregnant women should also avoid the use of this herb because of the possible effects it can have on the hormone levels in the body, which may lead to pregnancy complications and even miscarriage.