Urtica dioica; Urtica urens; Urtica lyallii; Urtica gracilis
Other Names and Etymology:
Burning nettle, common nettle. The word “nettle” may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon noedl, or “needle”, which speaks to the plant’s needle-like sting. Urtica is from the Latin urere, ” to burn”, and dioica means “two houses”, in reference to the male and female flowers on one plant.
Urticacae (nettle family)
Perennial with stiff, stinging hairs, forming thickets; 1 metre or higher. Leaves opposite, mostly ovate, on angled stems; margins coarsely toothed, up to 15cm long. Flowers tiny, greenish, in elongated drooping clusters from upper nodes. Male and female flowers in separate spikes with female spikes usually uppermost. Seeds small, 1 – 1.5mm long, tan to brown.
Habitat and Range:
Grows in thickets near stream banks, disturbed soils, and rich, damp soils, as well as open meadows and forests. Often growing en masse in disturbed habitats such as avalanche tracks, middens, slash piles, barnyards, roadsides. Common, locally abundant, from the lowlands to the alpine elevations.
Found from Newfoundland to Alaska, south into the United States. Urtica dioica was introduced from Europe; it has only patchy distribution in the Yukon, whereas U. gracilis is native.
Plant Parts Used:
Roots, seeds, leaves
Leaves: spring and early summer.
Roots: early spring and late autumn.
Seeds: as they mature.
*NOTE: When harvesting nettle, make sure to wear protective gloves, and long sleeves and pants if you are going to be trudging though the bush. I’ve read that if you don’t have gloves, if you grab the stem with enough pressure to crush the hairs, they don’t penetrate your skin and irritate you, but I’ve tried it without success (I got stung).
If you do get stung, a quick nearby remedy is to make a spit-poultice of horsetail, dock, or plantain leaf. Alternatively, make a paste of baking soda and water and apply.
Alterative, antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic, galactagogue, hemostatic, pectoral, rubefacient, tonic
Capsules, cooking herb, oil infusion, syrup, tea/infusion, tincture, vinegar
Nettle is particularly useful for the digestive, respiratory, urinary, and glandular systems. Its antihistamine properties make nettle good to ingest as a tea, capsule, or tincture for the treatment of allergies (with symptoms such as sneezing and itchy watery eyes). The leaf helps with inflammation of arthritis, gout, and kidney irritations, and because of its high iron content, can be made into a nourishing soup, or tea infusion for anaemia. Nettle leaf tea is also a cleansing herb, because it acts as a blood purifier. It helps the kidney and the liver, and is a mild laxative and diuretic, assisting with water retention, and bladder infection.
Due to high K values, fresh nettle can be used to stop bleeding, and has been prescribed for centuries to allay excess menstruation, nosebleeds, hemorrhoids, and digestive tract bleeding. Topically, the leaf tea acts as an astringent, and can be used as an anti-inflammatory for red or irritated skin (and as a treatment for eczema). Internally, can be ingested to treat excessive mucus caused by allergies.
The root has been reported to be proven as a treatment for symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia – a non-cancerous growth on the prostate gland of men.
Reported to control dandruff and keep hair healthy (make a hair rinse with a strong infusion of nettle tea).
Can be cooked the same as spinach, and is similar in taste. They can be prepared many ways, adding them to soups or stews, stir-fries, steamed, or simply sautéed.
Adding nettle to your compost pile will help start decomposition because of its nitrogen values.
High in calcium, magnesium, chlorophyll, iron, vitamins A, C, and D, zinc, potassium, chromium, cobalt, niacin, phosphorous, manganese, and silica.
In Hans Andersons fairy-tale of the Princess and the Eleven Swans, the coats she wove for them were made of nettles. Indeed nettle fibers, like hemp and flax have been used for textiles. A quaint old superstition exited that a fever could be dispelled by plucking a Nettle up by its roots, reciting thereby the names of the sick man and also the names of his family. Called “wergulu” in old Wessex in the tenth century, nettle was one of the nine sacred herbs, along with mugwort, plantain, watercress, chamomile, crab apple, chervil, and fennel.
Nettle is male in action and associated with the sign of Scorpio (some say Aries) and the planet Mars and element of Fire.
Nettle can be burned to drive out negativity or unwanted spirits. It can also be used in protection bags, our ground into powder and used in spells to break curses.
A European folktale tells of a woman whose brothers had been turned into swans. In order to return them to human form, she had to knit them coats of “unspoken” nettles – the plants were harvested from a graveyard at night, and she was not permitted to speak to anyone until the coats were done. I wonder if this folktale is really describing death and resurrection rather than transformation from swans to men. The use of “unspoken” nettles for curative purposes occurred in Scotland as well as other north countries. In Ireland, nettles marked the places where the Elves lived and could protect a person from sorcery. If cows were fed wilted nettles, witches and trolls could not hex them to stop producing milk, so this is quite a protective herb, despite its association with death and burial. Indeed, according to contemporary belief, nettle carried on the person protects from lightning – and draws money. On the other hand, the Iroquois said that nettles mixed with the dried blood of a snake was witchcraft medicine. Perhaps in keeping with its Mars rulership, nettle is sometimes incorporated into rituals of ordeal. For instance, children who wished to study witchcraft in the Kawaiisu tribe had to walk through nettles as practice. In some traditions, nettles are added to the water in which a new athame is consecrated. Nettle also plays a role in fishing magick, probably because it was once spun into string for fishing nets. It would make a great tool for knot magic. Nettle is one of the herbs in the Nine Herbs Charm, and it is a candidate for the herb olieribos mentioned in the Necronomicon. It is connected to Scorpio.
This magick herb also has been associated with death and burial customs. Bronze Age burial cloths have been found that were woven of its fibers. In the highlands and on the islands of Ireland, people believed that nettles grew from the bodies of the dead. In Denmark, people thought that nettles grew from the blood of innocent victims. Welsh folk believed that if fresh nettles put under the pillow of a sick person stayed green, the person would live, and if they turned yellow, that person would die.
To use as an infusion (tea): Pour one cup boiling water over 2-3 tablespoons leaves or plant and steep for 10-20 minutes or until desired temperature. Drink 1-3 cups daily.
To use a tincture (alcohol extract): Put 15-20 drops (0.25-0.3 ml) in a small amount of water and take 2 times daily of the herb, or 30 drops (0.5 ml) 2-3 times daily of the root.
To use the juice: Mix with an equal amount of water and take 1 teaspoon at a time.
To use as a decoction: Take 2-4 fluid ounces as needed.
Encapsulated form: Take 2 capsules of 600 mg 2-3 times daily of the herb, or a total of 320 to 1,200 mg daily of the root.
To help prevent seasonal allergies or hay fever, two 300 mg nettle leaf capsules or tablets, or a 2-4 ml tincture, three times per day can be taken during allergy season. For acute attacks, the freeze-dried encapsulated herb can be taken two capsules every five minutes until symptoms have diminished. For hives, 1-2 capsules can be taken every 2-4 hours as needed.
An infusion, tincture, powder, or the fresh juice can be applied externally to cuts and wounds, hemorrhoids, to nostrils for nosebleeds, insect bites or stings, and to soothe and heal burns and scalds. An ointment can also be applied, especially to hemorrhoids.
An infusion of the aerial parts can be taken to stimulate the circulation and to cleanse the system in arthritis, rheumatism, gout, and eczema. Drink 1-3 cups a day. A compress (a soaked cloth in the tea or tincture) can also be applied to painful arthritic joints, gout, neuralgia, sprains, tendonitis, and sciatica.
For prostate problems or BPH, 240 mg per day of the root extract in capsules or tablets can be taken. If this is purchased from a commercial source, it will most likely be combined with saw palmetto or pygeum extracts.
A tincture of the seeds can be used to raise thyroid function and reduce goiter, for skin problems, and in heavy uterine bleeding. The regular seeds, in doses of 14 or 16, and repeated three times daily, are highly recommended as a remedy for goiter.
The juice can be obtained by liquidizing the whole fresh plant to make a good tonic for debilitating conditions, anemia, and to soothe nettle stings. This is also prescribed for cardiac insufficiency with edema. For warts, rub with the freshly expressed juice 3 or 4 times a day, continuing for 10-12 days. To help prevent balding, a tincture or infusion of nettle leaf can be taken. As a rinse for dandruff, falling hair, and as a general conditioner, an infusion or decoction of the root can be taken. The juice of the roots and leaves mixed with honey can relieve bronchitis. An infusion can be taken to increase lactation in nursing mothers and for post-menopausal health. Drink 1-3 cups a day.
After nettle enters its flowering and seeding stages, the old leaves develop gritty particles called “cystoliths” that can irritate the urinary tract if ingested (via eating, or drinking as a tea).
It might cause stomach complaints and sweating. Touching the stinging nettle plant can cause skin irritation. The safety of using stinging nettle long-term is unknown.
The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
Stinging nettle is generally considered safe when used as directed. Occasional side effects include mild stomach upset, fluid retention, sweating, diarrhea, and hives or rash (mainly from topical use). It is important to be careful when handling the nettle plant because touching it can cause an allergic rash. Stinging nettle should never be applied to an open wound.
Because nettle can alter the menstrual cycle and may contribute to miscarriage, pregnant women should not use nettle.
Do not self treat with nettle for BPH. See your doctor to receive a diagnosis and to rule out prostate cancer.
There is some evidence that stinging nettle may raise blood sugar and could possibly interfere with diabetes management. There is also evidence that it can lower blood sugar. Either way, patients with diabetes should monitor their blood sugar closely when using stinging nettle.
Stinging nettle can have a diuretic effect. If you have kidney or bladder issues, speak with your physician.
Possible Interactions with medication:
Antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs (blood thinners) — Stinging nettle may affect the blood’s ability to clot, and could interfere with blood thinning drugs, including:
- Warfarin (Coumadin)
- Clopidogrel (Plavix)
Drugs for high blood pressure — Stinging nettle may lower blood pressure, so it could make the effects of these drugs stronger:
- ACE inhibitors: Captpril (Capoten), Elaropril (Vasotec), lisinopril (Zestril), fosinopril (Monopril)
- Beta blockers: Atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL), propranolol (Induran)
- Calcium channel blockers: Nifedipine (Procardia), amlodipine (Norvasc), verapamil (Calan, Isoptin)
Diuretics (water pills) — Because stinging nettle can act as a diuretic, it can increase the effects of these drugs, raising the risk of dehydration:
- Furosemide (Lasix)
Drugs for diabetes — Stinging nettle may lower blood sugar, so it could make the effects of these drugs stronger, raising the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Lithium — Stinging nettle may have a diuretic effect and may decrease how well the body excretes the drug.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) — In a scientific study of patients with acute arthritis, stewed stinging nettle leaves enhanced the anti-inflammatory effect of diclofenac, an NSAID. Although the effect can reduce pain, talk to your doctor before taking or using stinging nettle if you also take NSAIDs.
Peterson Field Guides: Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs, by Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs
Growing and Using Healing Herbs, by Gaea and Shandor Weiss
Lone Pine: Plants of Coastal British Columbia
The Boreal Herbal, by Beverely Gray