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
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 inflammation in the affected area.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 vitamins C and K, B vitamins, as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron, to name a few.3 It also has amino acids and antioxidants, which may help fight free radicals.4 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. This herb has also been called a “spring tonic,” which is a substance intended to cleanse the body of toxins.5
• Promotes healthy blood circulation and cardiovascular health. Nettle contains iron and vitamin C. Vitamin C improves the body’s absorption of iron,6 which aids in alleviating anemia and fatigue.7 This herb also contains a considerable amount of potassium, a mineral that reduces tension in your arteries and blood vessels, lowering your risk for strokes.8
• 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 aid in the prevention of rhinitis, or the inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose.9
• 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.10
Animal studies also suggest that nettle 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 the findings show that this herb limits and regulates the amount of testosterone produced by the lab rats.11
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.12 Consult a physician to make sure that you are taking an adequate dose or if it is even recommended for you.13
• As an extract. The juice or extract of the nettle plant can be used topically to help alleviate rheumatic pain.14 In addition, nettle extracts may help in promoting skin renewal in second degree burns in rat subjects.15
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.16
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:17
• 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.
• 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.
• Nettle leaves are ready for 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.”18
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 in the leaves. Some of the benefits of nettle tea include improving skin health, assisting in digestion, and boosting the immune system.19 Below is a nettle tea recipe from BBC Good Food that is packed with numerous health benefits:20
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.
Aside from nettle tea, nettle leaves can also be added to other dishes. Here are some recipes you can try to introduce nettle into your diet.
Creamy and Hearty Nettle Soup
• 100 grams (7.05 Tablespoons) raw butter
• 1 large leek or 2 medium-sized leeks, chopped
• 4 cups nettle tops, chopped
• 450 grams (about 1 pound) of organic potatoes, sliced
• 1 liter (33.8 ounces) homemade chicken stock
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• 150 ml (5.07 ounces) 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.
(Recipe adapted from Donal Skehan21)
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 Herbs22)
Nettle Oil May Also Be Beneficial for You
Aside from the tinctures and extracts available in the market, another product that you may benefit from is nettle oil. Due to the highly nutrient-dense leaves of the nettle plant, it comes as no surprise that some, if not most, of nettle's components are passed onto its essential oil.
In a 2012 study, nettle oil was extracted from the aerial parts of the plant and subsequently hydrodistilled. The oil itself was found to contain almost 92 percent of the compounds found in the plant.23
The presence of the compounds in nettle essential oil may explain its efficiency in alleviating certain conditions. In a 2011 animal study, nettle oil was found to be beneficial for colitis due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. However, more studies are needed to back up this claim.24
If you’re planning on getting your own bottle of nettle oil, you’ll find that most of what is available are nettle-infused oils. These are usually produced by distilling nettle leaves in a carrier oil. You can find these in numerous health food stores and online stores. Just make sure that you’re getting your supply from trustworthy sources to ensure you’re getting only high-quality products.
A Few Reminders Before Using Nettle
Nettle offers impressive amounts of health benefits and helps 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. According to the Natural Medicines Database, nettle is "likely unsafe" during pregnancy. However, it may help build a good milk supply for breastfeeding mothers. To ensure your and your child's safety, consult your doctor before using nettle.25