If you’ve had the experience of walking through a meadow or trail in the woods and found yourself with a bristly rash on exposed parts of your limbs, you may have brushed up against some stinging nettle. Nettles are an herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America. The plant has many hollow stinging hairs called “trichomes” on its leaves and stems, which act like needles that inject histamine, formic acid and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation. It’s very high nutritional content has made it a popular food source steamed and eaten like spinach (it does loose the “sting” when cooked), taken as a tea made from the dried leaves to assist in the nutrition of expectant or nursing mothers, or for general tonic properties for good health. Shakespeare makes mention of nettle when his character Hotspur warns, “ ‘Tis dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to drink, but I tell you, out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety” (I Henry IV, Act II Scene 3). It is a plant that has endeared itself to us throughout the ages.
The practice of Urtication, or flogging with nettles, is the process of deliberately applying stinging nettles to the skin in order to provoke inflammation. This use of a plant puts it into a class known as rubefacients (something that causes redness). This practice is sometimes referred to as “counter irritation” and was used long ago by country herbalists in England to help relieve pain in the joints and get folks back to work. Nettle leaf has a long history of use for modulating the body’s inflammatory pathways and supporting upper respiratory health. Clinical evidence for use in allergic rhinitis comes from a 1990 study in “Planta Medica” conducted by the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, which found that stinging nettle rated slightly higher for reducing hay fever symptoms than placebo. Nettle Root has been used to support healthy prostate function and there are human clinical studies supporting its use for this purpose.
Uses of Nettle
This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.