What is Nettle?
Nettle, also known as stinging nettle, refers to an unassuming looking herbaceous plant that has potent medicinal qualities. The botanical name for stinging nettle is Urtica dioica. There are several related subspecies that grow abundantly throughout the world. In fact, chances are you’ve already encountered this plant. It grows in wooded areas, yards and even some urban areas.
There are many ways to use the stems, leaves, roots and even the “stinging” hairs of the nettle plant. The leaves and roots are edible and eaten like other vegetables or made into a tea. Alternatively, extracts of the leaves and roots are used orally or added to topical creams.
This plant may seem ordinary and is even considered a weed in some places. But it’s pharmacological qualities are extraordinary. It can help calm symptoms of seasonal allergies, promote urinary health and reduce inflammation.
A friendly word of caution — while stinging nettle provides a lot of health benefits, it’s called “stinging” for a reason. The tiny hairs on the leaves, called trichomes, create a stinging sensation on the skin. These are neutralized when the plant is cooked or processed, but use gloves when handling in nature!
Rich in Nutrients
Cooked nettle leaf is edible and is a good source of many nutrients including (x):
- Essential amino acids
- Vitamins A, C, and K and several B vitamins
- Essential fatty acids
- Calcium, magnesium, sodium phosphorus, iron and potassium
- Luteoxanthin, beta-carotene, lutein and other carotenoids
Phenols are a group of compounds that exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions in the body, and stinging nettle has lots of these, too. In fact, the phenol content of this plant gives it much of its therapeutic properties. The phenols found in nettle include caffeic acid, kaempferol, quercetin and rutin (x, x).
Seasonal Allergy Support
One of the most popular uses of nettle leaf and root supplements is to reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of seasonal allergies, or “allergic rhinitis”. An increased release of histamine in the body in response to pollen causes symptoms like sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. The anti-inflammatory compounds in nettle, specifically quercetin, may help reduce this release of histamine (x, x).
While many allergy sufferers use nettle for this purpose, does it actually work? Studies on humans yield mixed results. In one study, a nettle supplement did improve allergy symptoms. In other cases, researchers did not find this (x, x). More research is necessary to understand exactly how it works. However, since allergies are so common and can feel awful, some people may find that even mild relief of symptoms make the supplement worthwhile.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate, is a very common condition and affects a majority of the male population over the age of 51 to varying degrees. Some men may not even be aware they have an enlarged prostate. Others, however, experience very uncomfortable symptoms including frequent urination, inability to completely empty the bladder and bacterial infections. A particularly annoying symptom of BPH is nocturia, or frequent waking at night to urinate.
The good news is that stinging nettle is effective at alleviating the symptoms of BPH, especially in milder cases. Studies show that alone or combined with another herb called saw palmetto, nettle extract can help improve urinary flow, urinary volume and nocturia. What’s more, it has far fewer side effects compared with finasteride, the drug commonly used to treat the condition (x, x).
Nettle may suppress growth and metabolism of prostate cells. The mechanism is still unclear, but it might help to slow the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, reducing enlargement and symptoms (x, x, x, x).
Reduce Arthritis Pain
Thanks to its potent anti-inflammatory qualities, extracts and creams that contain nettle can help reduce the pain and inflammation in people suffering from arthritis ailments. It works by blocking the production of hormones that cause the inflammation in the body (x, x).
Research backs this up. In one study, for example, 27 participants with osteoarthritis applied either a topical preparation of nettle extract or a placebo to the affected area. After just one week, those who received the nettle extract reported a reduction in pain (x).
Another study demonstrated the efficacy of an oral nettle preparation. Here, participants reported less pain from osteoarthritis of the knee and hip and a reduced need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (x).
Nettle acts as a diuretic, meaning it causes an increase in the amount of urine passed. This may be partly due to its high potassium content. Traditionally, people turned to nettle to support kidney and urinary health because of its diuretic properties. The diuretic effect of nettle can also temporarily reduce blood pressure and help manage hypertension (x, x, x).
Did You Know?
- There are many ways to add fresh nettle to your diet. Feeling ambitious in the kitchen? Try this recipe, or this one, or any of these!
- Alcoholic nettle beer is consumed in the British countryside.
- The Brits do love their nettle! Dorset, England hosts an annual World Nettle Eating Championship.
Nettle Extract Dosage and Side Effects
Nettle is used in many ways for many reasons. However, studies involving allergies and prostate enlargement used doses of 300-600 mg of dried extract.
People who are pregnant should not take nettle, and those who take diuretics or medication for blood pressure or diabetes should consult with a healthcare professional before using it.
Side effects can include a sudden drop in blood pressure.
The Bottom Line
Whether cooked and eaten fresh, consumed as a tea or taken as an extract, nettle provides lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients. For centuries, people used it to treat all kinds of conditions. Modern research also shows that it can be a great tool for the management of allergies, arthritis, urinary health, benign prostatic hyperplasia and high blood pressure.
By: Heather Howell