Moth and Toad Apothecary

Herbalism, self-sufficiency, and low-waste living

Herbal Spotlight: Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)

In a clearing, you find a small patch of green; stems of lush leaves stand regally among the remains of many other herbs, delicious snacks for the fauna of the forest. The clearing has been gleaned of its ground-level leaves, and yet here sits a full stem, untouched, uneaten, and unremarkably common to the area. You brush your fingers against the serrated leaves; they’re soft to the touch, but you notice a soft tingle. You pull in the plant by its stem for closer examination–then a light stinging, burning sensation erupts on your fingers. You nurse them, and after a few minutes, a rash begins to form on the back of your hand; nothing serious, but irritating nonetheless.
A deer approaches, and glimpses briefly at the patch. It passes by the empty clearing, seeking food that doesn’t bite back. 

Meet Urtica dioica, A.K.A. stinging nettle. This inconspicuous plant is a member of the urticaceae family, one of many species of the Urtica genus known to produce skin irritation when handled. Thanks to its histamine-filled trichomes, touching nettle produces a short-lived burning sensation. It is a nutritious, medicine rich plant found across the globe, although it is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It has been cultivated in the United States, but now also grows wild in woodlands and in patches of disturbed soil. It prefers moist, fertile ground, and full sun- partially shaded areas. 

Precautions

Stinging nettle has been used in herbalism for centuries. While very common and sometimes painful, it provides a plethora of unique uses for many ailments. From its nutritional value to its potential to soothe joint pain, there’s a use for everyone. It comes with few precautions, making it one of the safest herbs to use regularly. If you take medication such as lithium, which requires consistent hydration, it may not be a good fit for you; as a diuretic, stinging nettle can make it difficult to keep up with the necessary hydration that comes with taking this medication. If you are on water pills, medication for diabetes, blood clotting or thinning, are breastfeeding, or have issues related to the kidneys or urinary system, consult a doctor before use. This herb can cause uterine contractions, which can lead to miscarriage, and is therefore considered not safe for pregnant people. In most cases, using stinging nettle long term, even for up to a year, is considered safe (Web MD). 

Uses of Stinging Nettle

It contains an outstanding amount of minerals, including vitamins C, K, and B, minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium, essential amino acids, fatty acids, and flavonoids (Powers). When consumed regularly, it can be used to supplement these missing components of a diet. It is often eaten in meals to provide much needed nutrition.

Many people suffering from asthma, allergies, and other upper-respiratory conditions find that nettle helps reduce their symptoms. According to an article by Daniel Powers of the Botanical Institute, “In vitro studies show that stinging nettle has the ability to stabilize mast cells. It’s thought that this stabilization effect blocks histamine receptors and stops immune cells from releasing inflammatory molecules that trigger allergic reaction symptoms”. It has been used to prevent and reduce the effects of hay fever, or seasonal allergies with success. 

The consumption of stinging nettle leaves has been used to treat type 2 diabetes as well, because it can naturally lower blood sugar levels (Hailemeskel, Fullas). There is some contradictory information from studies concerning the effects of stinging nettle on blood sugar, so should come with proper medical care when used by anyone with diabetes. It can also cause hypoglycemia, especially when combined with some diabetic medications. 

For those dealing with conditions related to kidneys and the urinary tract, stinging nettle can be used to diminish pain and symptoms. By increasing urination, nettle may help reduce kidney stones and bacteria in the kidneys and urinary tract (Kaniecki). It has also been used to reduce the symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate (Powers). 

While its sting is painful, stinging nettle has been shown to increase the rate of healing. Along with histamine, the hypodermic needles within stinging nettle’s trichomes release “acetylcholine, serotonin, and formic acid” (LeGue). The combination of these chemicals “stimulate the capillaries and improve blood and lymph flow which in turn reduces inflammation and can speed up the healing process” (LeGue). When used with intention, even its defense mechanism can be a potent medicine.  It can also be used directly on skin to stimulate unreactive or damaged nerves. The process of using the stinging needles of nettle is called urtication, and is often used to help mitigate the pain of arthritis and joint inflammation. 

This herb’s preparations include teas, tinctures, and meals made from whole leaves. The stinging effect of this plant can be removed by smashing the leaves or by heating them. You can boil, steam, or even sauté nettle leaves and incorporate them into your diet. Regular consumption of nettle is considered safe, including for long term use of up to 1 year, according to Web MD. I couldn’t find anything saying longer use had any negative effects.   

I hope this spotlight inspires you to consider this common, often disliked “weed” when turning to herbs for medicine. I have included my sources below along with a few other books and a video I suggest for anyone interested in learning more! Thank you so much for reading.

If you enjoyed this spotlight, consider checking out my posts about calendula and passionflower!

Where to Buy Stinging Nettle

If you’d like to purchase stinging nettle to use for yourself, consider buying it through one of my amazon affiliate links below! If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you!

Sources Cited and Further Reading 

Kaniecki, D. (2021, December 13). Nettle & Kidney function. LEAF tv. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://www.leaf.tv/6391331/nettle-kidney-function/

LeGue, C. (2021, September 8). The sting that heals: Stinging nettle. Oregon Wild. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://oregonwild.org/about/blog/sting-heals-stinging-nettle

Merva, V. (2021, March 6). Tips for foraging stinging nettle. Simply Beyond Herbs. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://simplybeyondherbs.com/tips-for-foraging-stinging-nettle/

Powers, D. (2022, January 31). Stinging nettle: 5 benefits, dosage, & safety. The Botanical Institute. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://botanicalinstitute.org/stinging-nettle/

WEB MD. (2020). Stinging nettle: Overview, uses, side effects, precautions, interactions, dosing and reviews. WebMD. Retrieved April 16, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-664/stinging-nettle

Hailemeskel B, Fullas F. (2015, October 15) The use of Urtica dioica (stinging nettle) as a blood sugar lowering herb: a case report and a review of the literature. Diabetes Res Open J. https://openventio.org/Volume1-Issue5/The-Use-of-Urtica-dioica-Stinging-Nettle-as-a-Blood-Sugar-Lowering-Herb-A-Case-Report-and-a-Review-of-the-Literature-DROJ-1-119.pdf

Extra Learning:

Stinging Nettle – The Most Nutritious Plant on Earth? by Learn Your Land (YouTube video)

The Modern Herbal Dispensatory* by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne; particularly chapter thirteen: “Single Herbs” (book)

Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal* by Rosalee De La Foret (book)

* These links are amazon affiliate links! If you make a purchase through the link, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you!

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