Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)

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Also known as

Urtica dioica, Stinging Nettle, Common Nettle, Gerrais, Isirgan, Kazink, Ortiga, Grande Ortie, Ortie, Urtiga, Chichicaste, and Brennessel

Introduction

The common nettle comes by its other name, stinging nettle, honestly. The innocuous plant, a perennial that grows in many parts of the world and that has been naturalized to Brazil, delivers a stinging burn when the hairs on the leaves and stems are touched. Its healing properties are as well known among various cultures and are part of folklore and tradition. Those healing powers are even alluded to in at least one fairy tale, The Swan Princess, in which the heroine must weave shirts of nettle leaf to cure her twelve brothers who have been turned into swans by an evil stepmother. The nettle leaf and root both have medicinal properties, but each is more effective against different complaints. Nettle leaf is used traditionally as a diuretic, and as a treatment for rheumatism and arthritis. In Germany, a standardized extract is sold for the treatment of inflammatory conditions and prostate diseases. Nettle leaf's effectiveness against rheumatism and other inflammatory diseases is well documented, and borne out by chemical analysis of the plant.

Constituents

Nettle's main plant chemicals include: acetophenone, acetylcholine, agglutinins, alkaloids, astragalin, butyric acid, caffeic acids, carbonic acid, chlorogenic acid, chlorophyll, choline, coumaric acid, folacin, formic acid, friedelins, histamine, kaempherols, koproporphyrin, lectins, lecithin, lignans, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, neoolivil, palmitic acid, pantothenic acid, quercetin, quinic acid, scopoletin, secoisolariciresinol, serotonin, sitosterols, stigmasterol, succinic acid, terpenes, violaxanthin, and xanthophylls. High in vitamins A and C.

Description

Erect, perennial herb, armed with stinging hairs, with 4-sided, 1 1/2-10' tall stems. Leaves opposite, slender-stalked, narrowly lance shaped to heart shaped, 1 5/8-6" long and coarsely saw-toothed. Flowers greenish (sometimes pinkish) 1/16" long, with 4 tiny sepals and no petals, in hanging clusters from upper leaf axils, in April to September. Fruits are lens shaped seedlike achens 1/16" long. Grows on moist, rich, often disturbed ground in most zones of the northern hemisphere.

Parts Used

leaves, roots.

Typical Preparations

Steamed and eaten in salads, pastas, etc. Pureed or creamed.  As a tea, extract and capsule.

Edible uses

The stinging compounds in nettles are usually destroyed by cooking or drying, although eating large quantities may still cause a mild burning sensation. The young shoots may be boiled and used in stews and soups, or eaten like spinach. Purees and cream of nettle soup are delicious and are a vivid green, adding to the novelty of eating. Nettle water may be flavoured with lemon and sugar and served as a hot drink, or with salt, pepper, and vinegar as a soup base. Young plants can be used to make nettle tea, beer, and wine.

The juice or a strong tea can be used as rennet to make cheese. Roots, gathered in spring or autumn, can be cooked as a starchy vegetable.

Medicinal uses

Nettle's purported anti-inflammatory effects have been repeatedly confirmed by modern research over the past ten years. It is particularly effective in treating allergic rhinitis, relieving nearly all the symptoms of itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and runny nose. It also has performed better than the prescription drug furosemide in reducing blood pressure, increasing urine output as a diuretic and increasing salt excretion. It also seems to be effective in reducing pain and producing a sedative effect. It is important to keep in mind that the medicinal effects of the leaf and root of the nettle are markedly different. Nettle root, for instance, shows exceptional efficacy in treating prostate complaints in men. Nettle leaf has some of the same effects, but not to the same extent.

The leaf, on the other hand, shows some promise in boosting immune system function and is an effective treatment for many skin conditions. Nettles are rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins A and C. The leaf tea is rich in iron, and it is also said to aid coagulation and the formation of hemoglobin. Studies suggest that nettle depresses the central nervous system, inhibits the effects of epinephrine (adrenaline), increases urinary flow and kills bacteria. It has been used to treat a wide range of ailments, including gout, anemia, poor circulation, diarrhea and dysentery. Nettle tea was given to women in labor to "scare the baby out". It was also believed to increase milk production in nursing mothers and to reduce bleeding associated with menstruation, bladder infections, and hemmorhoids.

Recently, nettle has been recommended for reducing obesity and relieving bronchitis, asthma, hives, hayfever, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, premenstrual syndrome (they are high in boron, which reportedly increases estrogen levels, which also improves short term memory and elevates the mood of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease), benign prostatic hypertrophy (non cancerous prostate enlargement), gout, sciatica and multiple sclerosis. In mouthwashes it can combat dental plaque and gingivitis. It has been used in Germany for prostate cancer treatment, and in Russia for treating hepatitis and gall bladder inflammation.

Stinging the skin with nettles has been used around the world for centuries to treat rheumatism, arthritis, paralysis and, more recently, multiple sclerosis. This stinging could act as a counter-irritant, creating minor pain that tricks the nervous system into overlooking deeper pain by effecting the P receptors. Stinging also injects chemicals into the skin. Some of these cause inflammation, which could trigger the body to release more of it's own anti-inflammatory chemicals.

Other uses

Nettles provide excellent fibers, which have been used to make ropes, cordage, fishing nets, paper and cloth. The fibers were considered superior to cotton for making velvet or plush, and were more durable than linen. Roots may be boiled to make a yellow dye. Roman soldiers would rub their feet and hands with nettles to restore circulation when they were chilled with cold.

One final use should be noted and that is nettle lhas been used as a hair and scalp treatment for centuries, and again, those uses are being supported by research as well. Nettle root and leaf extract seems to promote hair regrowth and thicken hair, as well as reducing dandruff and scalp conditions when used as a rinse.

Precautions

Because of its diuretic and hypotensive actions, nettle leaf may lower blood pressure. If you are taking diuretics or other drugs meant to lower blood pressure, consult your doctor before using nettle leaf. Its long term, extended use is not recommended. Due to a possible stimulation of uterine contrations, it should not be used by pregnant women, except as an adjunct during delivery.

Rubbing affected areas with the plants' own root is supposed to relieve the burning. Dock (Rumex Spp.) leaves have also been recommended as an antidote.