Standardized: stinging nettle
Urtica dioica L. ssp. dioica
Plant Family: Urticaceae
Nettle has been used worldwide for centuries in a variety of countries and cultures. It has been eaten as a wild food plant, applied topically to the skin, and drunk as a mineral rich tea for its diuretic and soothing effects on the urinary tract. It was used extensively for its fibers, similar to flax and hemp, and was woven into cloth.3,4,5 Nettle fibers were considered to be high quality and comparable to flax or hemp in Northern Europe.
There are around 50 species of Urtica worldwide 4 all members of the Urticaceae family. Urtica is derived from Latin verb urere, which means "to burn," and is named such due to its stinging (urticate) hairs. The species name dioica comes from the botanical term dioecious meaning that a species has either male or female flowers. The species most commonly found in North America is U. dioica ssp. gracilis which has 6 varieties, 5 of which have trichomes (stinging hairs). 7 Essentially there are a few species (namely U.dioica and U. urens) and subspecies that are similar and can be used interchangeably.6,7,8,9 Both of these species are native to Eurasia and Africa and are common weeds which have become naturalized in North and South America and Australia.10 This perennial plant loves moist areas and grows along streams and marshes from around sea level to altitudes of 10,000 feet.9 It can grow from 2 to 6 feet tall, has ovate serrated leaves, heart-shaped at the base, square stems, and has long clusters of greenish flowers.10,11 The entire plant is covered with stinging hairs that come off when touched and can cause contact dermatitis.11
Cultivation And Harvesting
Prefers part shade or sun and moist fertile soil. Grows well in all zones. 2 It is best to collect leaves just before flowering 4,12 or, at first flowering depending on the geographic area in which you are harvesting.9 Although in some regions nettles can be harvested most anytime throughout the year.13 And, it is definitely best to wear gloves!!
The seeds can be collected in the late summer by cutting off the flowering tops and hanging them upside down allowing the seed to fall off as they dry.9
History And Folklore
Nettles has been employed as a spiritual talisman in which it was sprinkled around the house to ward off evil or carried in a sachet in order to "remove a curse and send it back".16 Nettles have been consumed by a variety of cultures. The spring shoots (leaf tips) were boiled as an edible vegetable like spinach 4,9,12 Rosemary Gladstar suggests adding lemon, olive oil, and feta cheese to steamed young nettle tops.12 Further, various native American cultures used an assortment of nettle preparations for numerous illnesses and in pregnancy and childbirth.17
Various sources suggest using the plant to stimulate hair growth.13,18,20 According to the late herbalist Michael Moore, the seed contains trace amounts of formic acid that can be used topically on the scalp to stimulate hair growth.9
astringent, antiseptic, diuretic, alterative, tonic, trophorestorive (bringing balance to a system, in this case nettle seed is a trophorestorative to the kidney and adrenal glands)
Uses And Preparations
Commonly the dried leaf and/or dried root is used as a tea, tincture or powdered and encapsulated. A fresh plant tincture may be made as well (just be careful!!). Additionally, the young tender shoots of the fresh plant may be eaten or made into juice.
The leaves contain a multitude of vitamins and minerals including: A, B complex, C, E, K1, folic acid, histamine, acetylcholine, formic acid, acetic acid, and butyric acid.10,21 The hairs are made of silica and inject neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, histamine, 5HTP (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes into the skin.11,21 The root contains various anti-inflammatory compounds including: phytosterols, pentacyclic triterpenes, lignans, coumarin, ceramides and hydroxy fatty acids polysaccharides and lectins, tannins, alcohols, monoterpenes and triterpenes.6,21,22 The seed contains volatile oils and formic acid.9
Nettle fiber was used in Europe in the early 1900's for cloth to make stockings, tarps and army clothing3. It was estimated that it took roughly 90 lbs of fiber to make one shirt. Overalls from a captured German soldier revealed the cloth to be made of 85% nettle and 15% ramie (Boehmeria nivea), which is from the nettle's tropical cousin, and is one of the oldest continually cultivated fiber crops.20 Ramie was a principal component in the cloth used to wrap mummies in ancient Egypt and is currently cultivated in China, India, and SE Asia.
Specific: No known precautions.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
- Plants for a Future Database. Accessed at http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Urtica+dioica on June 9, 2014.
- Vogl CR, Hartl A. 2003. Production and processing of organically grown fiber nettle (Urtica dioica L.) and its potential use in the natural textile industry: A review. American journal of alternative agriculture, 18(3), 119-128.
- Foster, S. Herbal Renaissance. Utah: Peregine Smith Books; 1984.
- Mabberley D.J. The plant-book. A portable dictionary of the higher plants. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1987.
- Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Riggins CW, Rister RS, eds. Klein S, Rister RS, trans. The Complete German Commission E MonographsTherapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communication; 1998. Accessed on June 9, 2014 at www.herbalgram.org.
- Foster, S. and J. A. Duke. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company; 2000.
- Lust. J. The Herb Book. New York: Bantam books; 1974.
- Moore M. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Santa Fe. New Mexico: The Museum of New Mexico Press; 1979.
- Stary, F. The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants. Detroit: Treasure Press; 1991.
- Darlington, R.W. Wildflower Finder. Accessed at http://wildflowerfinder.org.uk on June 9th, 2014.
- Gladstar, R. Herbal Healing for Woman. New York: Fireside Publishing; 1993.
- Drum, R. Wildcrafting Medicinal Plants. Accessed at http://www.ryandrum.com/wildcrafting.htm on June 9, 2014.
- Cunningham, S. Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications; 2000.
- Moerman, D.E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Accessed at http://herb.umd.umich.edu/ on June 9, 2014.
- Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey. Cherokee Plants and Their Uses – A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C.: Herald Publishing Co; 1975.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Accessed at http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/n/nettle03.html on June 9, 2014.
- Duke, J. A. Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/ on June 9, 2014.
- Bombardelli, E. and P. Morazzoni. 1997. Urtica dioica. Review. Fitoterapia 68(5):387401
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.