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Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica): Benefits And Uses

Discover the hidden properties and benefits of the stinging nettle and how to incorporate it into our diets
The stinging nettle is a medicinal plant with many properties and health benefits.

 

Stinging nettle is a medicinal plant with potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties which makes it a super plant regarding its health benefits. Green nettle or Urtica dioica is the most common type of all, together with the white dead nettle and the small nettle.

We will have a look at what stinging nettle is, what it is used for, and what its main properties and benefits are. We will also examine the different types of stinging nettle like the green and the white one. 

What is stinging nettle?

Generally speaking, nettle is the preferred term when talking about any of the plants in the Urtica genus, which belong to the Urticaceae family.  

This plant is characterized by the presence of many hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems which cause contact urticaria (temporary localized swelling, itchiness, and redness of the affected area). 

Although some mistake it for an invasive species, this medicinal plant has many health benefits and a variety of uses - the main one being teas or infusions. 

The main active substances in this medicinal plant are found mainly in the leaves, roots, and in the trichomes (the stinging hairs) of the nettle. The seeds also contain essential nutrients such as protein, mucilage, or tocopherol.

Types of stinging nettle 

Within the nettle family, we distinguish two main types of stinging nettle that are different regarding their description and uses. 

  • Urtica dioica, green nettle 

  • Urtica urens, small nettle 

Green stinging nettle is the most common type, and it can grow up to 150 cm. It has many therapeutical uses, and its stinging hairs contain an irritant fluid that causes intense itchiness, swelling, and redness when touched. This type of nettle will be the focus of our article. 

Small nettle, however, is relatively more modest in size but packs a more powerful punch when it comes to its urticarial potential. 

White nettle

White dead nettle (Lamium album) does not have the irritant properties of the green stinging nettle and therefore does not cause contact urticaria nor is it a different type of nettle. It's a plant from the Lamiaceae family and the only similarity with nettles is the fact that they both grow in extensive colonies. 

The hairs on the stems cause contact urticaria - temporary localized swelling and redness.

 

Properties and benefits 

From a nutritional standpoint, the green stinging nettle is considered a complete plant. It contains vitamins A, B, C, and E as well as minerals such as iron, zinc, and calcium. Green nettle also contains flavonoids which facilitate antioxidant and anti-inflammatory processes. 

On the other hand, this plant is known to have diuretic properties due to its levels of chlorophyll and organic acids. It has been proven to have antibacterial properties and positive results in treating cutaneous conditions. 

Stinging nettle also contains a hormone called secretin, which regulates stomach, pancreas, and liver secretions as well as peristalsis (contraction and relaxation of muscles ) in the intestines. 

Finally, the compounds flavonoids, histamine, and tannin are three of the main elements responsible for stinging nettle's health benefits. 

All of the properties contained in stinging nettles classify them as medicinal plants with powerful health qualities. We will have a look at 5 of their most important benefits. 

1. Anti-anemic 

Nettle is rich in iron and Vitamin C, nutrients that make this anti-anemic plant perfect for people struggling with iron-deficiency anemia. Due to its glucose-lowering properties, this plant also helps reduce the level of sugar in our blood. 

2. Haircare 

The plant is used as a natural remedy in haircare to treat dandruff, help avoid hair loss and regulate sebum excess. To do this, use decoctions made from the roots and leaves of nettle. 

3. Antioxidant 

The incredible amount of nutrients that it contains make the stinging nettle an excellent homemade remedy. Nettles are brimming with antioxidants that reduce cellular damage, fight against free radicals, delay the aging process, and promote a general state of wellbeing. 

4. Anti-inflammatory 

Another benefit of this plant is its anti-inflammatory property which has been studied extensively. Due to all the studies, stinging nettle is now used to treat arthritis, prostatitis, hemorrhoids, and osteoarticular inflammation, among others. 

5. Analgesic

This last characteristic, having analgesic properties, is connected to the previously mentioned one. Its pain-relieving quality is the reason why it's used in joint or muscular pain treatment. Nettle can also be used topically, as an external poultice, as well as in the form of infused oil. 

Stinging nettle infusions are the best way to enjoy the plant’s properties.

What is nettle used for?

Urtica dioica has many preparation and usage ways. It can be a food ingredient, as well as a homemade remedy for common ailments. Nettle is also used in infusions and other concoctions. 

1. Stinging nettle as food

Stinging nettle is perfectly safe to eat. The leaves have many nutrients, and all of the stinging hairs are removed during cooking. 

The nettle has been used across the world as an ingredient in the kitchen, and it tends to be used in vegetable stews. 

It can also be added to salads, green juices, or purees. The most important thing is to wear gloves while foraging for nettle, this way you can avoid the urticaria it causes. 

2. Stinging nettle infusions and teas

Nettle tea was once used as a homemade remedy against skin conditions, stones, and urinary tract inflammations, among others. Mixed with a healthy diet and daily exercise, nettle can also help with weight loss. 

Nettle infusions help moderate pain, and a steam bath of nettle leaves will help with your cold due to the expectorant properties it possesses. 

To prepare the infusion, you need one teaspoon of nettle leaves and 150 ml of hot water. 

3. Herbal poultice and creams 

Herbal poultices made with the leaves of stinging nettle are normally used to treat pain, and it has been used as such for many generations. 

It also contains anti-inflammatory compounds and otehrs that improve circulation. 

References:

Ghaima, K. K., Hashim, N. M., & Ali, S. A. (2013). Antibacterial and antioxidant activities of ethyl acetate extract of nettle (Urtica dioica) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, 3(5): 96.

Gülçin, I., Küfrevioǧlu, Ö. Ä°., Oktay, M., & Büyükokuroǧlu, M. E. (2004). Antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiulcer and analgesic activities of nettle (Urtica dioica L.). Journal of ethnopharmacology, 90(2-3): 205-215.

Riehemann, K., Behnke, B., & Schulze-Osthoff, K. (1999). Plant extracts from stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), an antirheumatic remedy, inhibit the proinflammatory transcription factor NF‐κB. FEBS letters, 442(1): 89-94.

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