Stinging nettle is one of the non-human friendly, touch-wise, and at the same time very helpful, health-wise, herb. Urtica dioica (biological name of the plant) is the best known member of Urtica genus; it is recognized by spiny hairs whose tips come off when touched.
This hair transforms in a needle that is releasing a number of poisonous chemicals – histamine, acetylcholine, 5-HT and formic acid. The commonly known “7 minute itch” on the skin is the result of this “injection”. Other distinctive attributes of the plant are yellow, widely spreading roots and green 3-15 cm long heart-shaped leaves. In summer this herbaceous perennial reaches 1-2 m height, and in winter – dying down to the ground.
The spread of stinging nettle is abundant in Europe and large areas of Asia, usually in their rural parts. The plant prefers moist soil with rich phosphate and nitrogen content. In this case it provides a good quality fibre. Stinging nettle is commonly found growing in woodlands, along stream and river banks, in flood plains and any other areas with moist soils.
Young nettle shots are harvested in spring and are both processed for cooking, and can be dried and stored for winter. The whole plant is usually used for consumption and herbal preparations, but mostly these are the leaves that serve as the source of major active compounds. Old leaves’ chemical content is used for providing laxative properties. Also, the chlorophyll extract from the plant is used as a commercial colouring agent (E140).
Stinging nettle is being sold for consumption as dried leaf, root tincture (root solution in alcohol), as tea, capsules and decoction.
Young leaves of the plant are the rich source of nutritious compounds that are beneficial for various medicinal properties. They include minerals (especially iron), vitamins (especially A and C), flavonoids, potassium. The two latter provide diuretic actions when used for the related conditions.
Stinging nettle plant is also favoured for its astringent, aniasthmatic, haemostatic, hypoglycaemic and tonic properties, as well as for the ability to treat anemia (due to high iron content) and some of the symptoms of BPH (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia). Also, lectin in stinging nettle provides immune-stimulating properties.
Stinging nettle has been for long used in medicinal history. Far back in medieval Europe the herbalists treated joint problems with the beneficial properties of the stinging nettle as a diuretic plant. Also, some healers used a whipping technique – they stroke the arms and legs of paralyzed patients to get their muscles activated. This also helped to relieve the pain in some inner organs.
Herb’s stimulating actions on kidneys and bladder have also been known for long. Stinging nettle treats inflammation of the urinary tract and kidney gravel, improves excretion of uric acid, with its high potassium content and flavonoids providing diuretic actions. In this way it also reduces the symptoms of gout and arthritis.
The plant provides the treatment for urinary retention caused by prostate enlargement, too. It is successfully used (especially in combination with saw palmetto) for handling BHP symptoms: post urination dripping, reduced urinary flow, incomplete emptying of the bladder, and the regular urge to urinate. Nettle shoots, when eaten, clean the body of toxins and work purifying the blood.
When used externally as topical application (as part of compresses and creams), stinging nettle treats sprains, joint pain, strains, and insect bites. Other medicinal uses of the plant include help for rheumatoid arthritis, hay fever (allergic rhinitis), menstrual bleeding, haemorrhoids, high blood sugar, anaemia, and eczema.