Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) grows wild in temperate regions around the world. A staple among herbalists, stinging nettle is actually one of the most nutrient-dense and tonifying herbs you can add to your wellness plan. As our soils become depleted, so are the nutrients in our food. Nettle can help replace those lost nutrients. It has been used as food, medicine, and a nourishing tonic since ancient times. You can use nettle like any other medicinal herb in a tincture, supplement or tea.
You may be most familiar with nettle when you rub up against it and get that irritating rash on your skin. Urtica comes from the Latin urere, meaning "to burn," because of its erect, bristly hairs covering the leaves and stem which sting when touched. These stinging hairs, along with the leaves’ sharply serrated edges, are distinguishing features of stinging nettle.
Stinging nettle is packed with vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals along with hefty dose of potent phytonutrients including deep-green chlorophyll and carotenoids. In fact, more than 100 chemical components have been identified in nettle, including:
• Minerals – iron, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, boron, strontium
• Vitamins - A, C, K, and B vitamins
• Phytonutrients - chlorophyll, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, quercetin, rutin
Packed with Minerals
Nettle tea, made from dried nettle leaves, is perhaps best known for its high mineral content. The leaves are packed with more minerals, especially magnesium and calcium, than a number of other medicinal herbs. One recent study found that dried nettle leaf has more magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, boron, and strontium than dried chamomile, peppermint, sage, St. John’s wort, linden, and lemon balm.
Other Nettle Tea Benefits
In addition to its high nutrient content, results from preliminary studies show that stinging nettle has many other health-promoting properties. For example, nettle has been shown to:
• Decrease oxidative stress. The natural polyphenols in nettle leaves are thought to be responsible for the powerful antioxidant abilities of nettle tea. Oxidative stress is implicated in accelerated aging as well as many chronic diseases.
• Relieve pain. Nettle tea has analgesic effects.
• Fight infections. Nettles have antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal effects. Nettle tea has notable antimicrobial activity against gram-positive and -negative bacteria when compared with standard and strong antimicrobial compounds.
• Decrease inflammation. Nettles work as a natural anti-inflammatory through a number of different mechanisms, such as decreasing nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) binding activity to DNA. Nettle extract used to treat arthritis has been shown to decrease levels of pro-inflammatory compounds such as interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP).
• Lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Nettles are used in diabetics to combat high blood sugar and cardiovascular risk factors.
• Fight cancer. Nettles have a beneficial effect in prostate cancer.
• Heal stomach lining. Nettle tea helps heal the mucosal lining of the stomach in the case of ulcers or stomach irritation.
• Treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Nettle roots instead of the leaves are used to decrease symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
• One of the best ways to obtain nettle tea benefits is by steeping a hefty amount of the dried, cut leaves in boiling water inside a large, covered container for a long period of time.
Infusing a large amount of dried stinging nettle leaves in water for a long period of time is one of the easiest and most traditional ways to obtain nettle tea benefits.
Use ½ cup dried nettle leaves to 1 quart of water. Bring the water to a boil. Place the nettle leaves into a pan or a large ball jar (large enough to hold the quart of water). Pour the boiling water over the nettle leaves and cover. Let steep for an hour, or up to eight hours. Leaving it to steep overnight can be helpful so it’s ready to drink the next day. Strain and drink throughout the day. You can add other herbs to this infusion for more medicinal benefits or for taste. Try adding raspberry leaf if you want more hormonal balancing effects or peppermint for more digestive support. To help keep you well-hydrated this summer and to obtain a host of nettle tea benefits, make up a large batch of mineral-rich tea to keep in the refrigerator and drink it iced. Here’s a wonderful combination of nutritive herbs for drinking cold: nettle leaf, alfalfa, oat straw or horsetail, and rose hips.
The leaf of the nettle is covered in tiny hairs (trichomes) each of which has a rounded tip. The end of each hair is very brittle because of high silicon content. When brushed, the rounded tip snaps off obliquely, turning the hair into the functional equivalent of a small hypodermic syringe, giving the plant its name. This penetrates the skin allowing toxins at the base of the hair to be injected. The toxin delivered contains a range of chemicals including histamine, serotonin, LTC 4, and acetylcholine. Indigenous cultures have used nettles and the presence of these stinging hairs for urtication. Urtication is a method of deliberately stinging an area where there is musculoskeletal pain to provide it with analgesic effects. Modern science continues to study this process for things like arthirits or lower back pain. What does this plant not do is the real question.