Most of us avoid or just weed out stinging nettle if we find it growing in our backyard or gardens. Its sting, which comes from the tiny hair on its leaves, can produce itchiness, redness, and swelling.
While it does cause some temporary discomfort, this perennial plant is highly beneficial for health.
It can reduce inflammation, treat arthritis, help reduce prostate size, improve urinary health, treat hay fever and also lower blood pressure.
Read on to learn about the health benefits of stinging nettle, its uses, and side effects.
What is stinging nettle?
Stinging nettle is a perennial herb that is native to parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America.
This herb is famous for its ability to cause a burning sensation when it is touched, which is why its scientific name Urtica dioica comes from the Latin word ‘uro,’ which means ‘to burn.’
Ancient Egyptians used stinging nettle to treat pain and arthritis. Ancient Greek physicians Galen and Dioscorides used nettles as a diuretic and laxative.
Stinging nettle plant usually grows two to four feet high. It has heart-shaped leaves and yellow and pink flowers, which generally bloom from June to September.
The leaves of this plant also have long stinging hair (trichomes) that inject chemicals like serotonin, histamine, and acetylcholine into the skin, when you accidentally touch them.
This can cause pain and inflammation in the area. Though often avoided, this plant is highly beneficial (1). Its stems, leaves, and roots are used to treat various ailments.
Nutritional value of stinging nettle
Stinging nettle is one of the most nutritionally dense plants. It contains –
- Vitamins: Vitamin A, C, K, and many B vitamins.
- Minerals: Calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and sodium.
- Fatty acids: Linoleic acid, linolenic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid.
- Polyphenols: Kaempferol, quercetin, caffeic acid, coumarins.
- Pigments: Beta-carotene, lutein, luteoxanthin
It also contains all the amino acids. These nutrients act as antioxidants inside the body and give this plant its many health benefits.
Health benefits of stinging nettle
1. Reduces inflammation
Although inflammation is the body’s standard response to deal with infection, chronic inflammation can harm the body.
Several studies have shown that applying stinging nettle cream or using nettle products orally can help reduce inflammation related to arthritis.
During one trial 27 patients with osteoarthritis pain at the base of their thumb or index finger, applied nettle leaf on the affected area for one week.
The results showed a significant reduction in pain in the affected areas (4).
According to another study from Germany, stinging nettle inhibits the inflammatory cascade in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (5).
Another study showed that the patients of osteoarthritis could benefit from the use of stinging nettle as it helps decrease the need for analgesics and NSAIDs (6).
2. Treats enlarged prostate
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a condition in which the enlarged prostate gland presses on to the urethra.
This can lead to an increasing urge to urinate, discomfort during urination, post urination dripping and reduced urinary flow.
Up to 50 percent of the men over 51 have an enlarged prostate gland (7).
Several studies have shown that stinging nettle can treat benign prostatic hyperplasia.
According to a 2012 study, stinging nettle prevents the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, which helps reduce prostate size.
This study shows that stinging nettle is as effective as finasteride in treating BPH (8).
A German study has also shown that stinging nettle root extract is also useful in preventing the spread of prostate cancer cells (9).
The root of stinging nettle is also useful in treating urinary tract infections.
3. Hay fever
Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, develops when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized to something in the environment.
It causes symptoms like a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure.
Stinging nettle reduces the amount of histamine in the body which is caused by allergies.
According to studies, stinging nettle extracts affect key receptors and enzymes associated with hay fever (10).
During one study, 28 individuals took part in a study that compared the effects of a freeze-dried preparation of stinging nettle with placebo on allergic rhinitis.
According to the results stinging nettle was rated higher than the placebo (11).
Stinging nettle has been traditionally used in the management of cardiovascular disorders, especially high blood pressure (12).
Various animal studies have also shown that it can lower blood pressure in several ways.
Stinging nettle extracts stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which acts as a vasodilator.
According to a 2002 animal-based study, stinging nettle root extracts are effective in lowering blood pressure (15).
Stinging nettle also helps improve glycemic control in type 2 diabetes patients and reduces inflammatory markers. Several studies have indicated a link between this plant and lower blood sugar levels (16, 17, 18).
Structural and computational analysis of stinging nettle extract shows that this plant mimics the effects of insulin (19).
During a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, 46 people took one 500 mg nettle leaf extract capsule every eight hours for three months.
The researchers concluded that nettle safely improves glycemic control in type 2 diabetic patients that need insulin therapy (20).
6. Can reduce bleeding
The stems and leaves of nettle contain large amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K is used by the body to help in blood clotting.
According to a study, a product called Ankaferd Blood Stopper which has stinging nettle as one of its ingredients was found to be effective within 10 to 20 minutes in controlling bleeding in most of the patients after dental surgery (21).
7. Treats eczema
Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat eczema. Nettle leaves have astringent properties which help in treating eczema and other skin issues like insect bites and chicken pox.
Stinging nettle can be used orally and can also be applied topically to treat the symptoms of eczema like rash and itchiness.
8. Protects against liver damage
Stinging nettle also helps to protect the liver from damage caused by heavy metal, toxins, and inflammation.
According to a 2015 study, when water infused with fresh nettle leaves was given to rats, it helped protect against mercury intoxication, and also helped enhance hepatic, renal and testicular GHS levels of rats (22).
Stinging nettle offers many other benefits, but further research is needed to prove their effectiveness.
These include asthma relief, decrease in menstrual flow, and promote lactation, treatment of hemorrhoids and anemia.
How to grow and use nettle?
Growing stinging nettle in your garden gives you the freedom to harvest and use fresh nettle leaves whenever you need them.
Choose a spot in your garden or backyard that has rich and moist soil. Also, ensure that it is away from the other plants.
Sow the seeds in ¼ inch of soil and keep the soil moist. The seeds will start to germinate after 14 days.
You can harvest the leaves after around 90 days. Always handle the nettle plant with gloves to avoid getting stung.
- You can dry nettle leaves and steep them to make nettle tea. Nettle tea is also available in health food stores with additional herbs like raspberry leaves, echinacea, and goldenseal.
- You can also cook and steam nettle leaves and use them in soups, stews, and smoothies. These leaves can also be pureed and added to pesto and polenta. When cooked, nettle has a flavor that is similar to spinach.
- Nettle is available in the form of cream, tincture, and extracts, which can be applied on to painful joints for relief.
- Nettle supplements in the form of powder, capsules, and tablets are also available. Check with your doctor before you take these for any ailment.
Side effects and precautions
Consuming processed, dried or cooked stinging nettle is generally considered safe. Handling and using fresh leaves of stinging nettle can sting and harm your skin.
The fine hair on the leaves have chemicals like acetylcholine, histamine, serotonin, leukotrienes and formic acid, which can cause redness, rashes, and itching.
In such cases, you should avoid touching or scratching the area as it can push the chemicals further into the skin.
Use crushed leaves from plants like jewelweed, and sage to provide relief from the sting.
You can also use aloe vera, calamine or cold compress for relief from itching.
Pregnant women should avoid consuming nettle leaves as they are known to stimulate contractions and this can lead to miscarriage.
Stinging nettle can also interact with certain medications, so you must consult your doctor if you are taking any of these medications before you take stinging nettle:
- Blood pressure medications
- Blood Thinners
- Diabetes medication
Stinging nettle is a highly beneficial perennial herb. It helps reduce inflammation, provides relief from hay fever, lowers blood pressure and blood sugar levels and treats an enlarged prostate.
While the tiny hair on its leaves can sting and cause temporary discomfort, its dried and cooked leaf are generally safe to use.
However, if you are taking diuretics, blood thinners, blood pressure or diabetes medications, do check with your doctor before you use stinging nettle.