Nettle is a flowering perennial with both male and female flowers on the same plant. It grows nearly everywhere, likes nutrient-rich soil, and can reach as high as 6 feet in height. Nettle prefers full sun to partial shade and spreads by both seeds and rhizomes. The stems are unbranched, usually square and hairy. Nettle leaves sit opposite each other with serrated or toothed sides and pointy tips. Under the leaves are hairs or stingers that inject formic acid into whatever brushes up against them. The flowers are greenish brown in color and protrude from the leaf axils. Seeds are harvested from the female flowers which hang down while the male flowers gesture up.
Collect leaves before flowering – late spring to early summer
Collect seeds in the summer. Take care to identify and collect the seeds from the female flowers and not the male flowers.
Roots can be harvested from fall through the winter
Stems for cordage can be collected in the fall as the plants begins to rest
Stingers – gloves and care should be used when harvesting any part of this plant
Stem, Leaf, Root, Seed, Stingers/Hairs
Vitamins – A, B Complex, C, E, K
Folic Acid, histamine, acetylcholine
Formic acid, acetic acid, butyric acid
Coumadin, tannins, volatile oils
Flavonoids, carotenes, fatty acids
Nettle root is used, especially in Europe, as a tonic for the kidneys and bladder. It is used specifically to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) by preventing the conversion of androgens to estrogens and suppressing prostate cell metabolism. This action may also be useful in estrogen-related diseases such as breast cancer, PCOS, and hair loss. Ursolic acid found in nettle root inhibit degrading enzymes responsible for loss of elasticity in skin and prevent wrinkles from occurring.
Nettle seed works to support the adrenal glands resulting in increased energy, improved sleep, and improved thyroid function (in cases of hypothyroidism). Ingesting the seeds also works through the adrenal glands to help with chronic exhaustion and adrenal fatigue.
Nettle is famous for the irritation caused by bare skin touching the stinging hairs of the plant. Surprisingly, those same stingers also bring pain relief. The hairs containing the chemicals histamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin that cause inflammation and pain can also be used deliberately in the treatment of arthritis pain. (Randall 2000)
One of things I love most about nettle is its role in reducing inflammation in diseases such as arthritis and gout. Studies show that its anti-inflammatory actions inhibit the activation of cytokines thought to be responsible for the inflammation and swelling consistent with rheumatoid arthritis. This anti-inflammatory action also helps to relive hay fever or allergic rhinitis. Nettle also contains silica which is a mineral that contributes to the regeneration of the body’s connective tissues and can assist with painful conditions like tendonitis.
Nettle also produces hypotensive effects by acting as a vasodilator and increasing nitric oxide production which dilates blood vessels. Some of the compounds in nettle may act as calcium channel blockers which relax the heart muscles making it easier to pump.
The plant contains substances that mimic insulin by lowering the body’s blood sugar. Like the root, the leaves contain anti-oxidants that help the body to combat aging by lowering free radicals. In a 2004 study, nettle exhibited anti-microbial activity against 9 common bacteria and yeast populations that frequently infect humans including staph, strep, candida, and e-coli.
Primarily, nettle is used as a tonic or nutritive. Both oral traditions and numerous articles describe nettle as a holistic, nutritious food and drink with multiple benefits including clearer skin, more energy, improved hair condition, and greater health. This is most likely due to the abundance of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other needed compounds contained within the plant. Nettle is also nearly non-toxic to humans though there are those that develop allergic reactions to the plant.
Dried leaf and root used for tea, tincture, or encapsulated
Young leaves and plants eaten or juiced
Seeds eaten fresh or dried or added to food.
Dosage and Safety
Tea- 1 to 3 tsp dried per cup of water. Can drink up to 3 times a day. Decoct the nettle rather than infuse.
Tincture – 1:5 in 40% alcohol, 2.5 to 5 ml three times a day (Hoffman 2003)
Sold in capsule form as supplements with the recommended dose of 300 to 900 mg.
Tincture – 1:5 in 45% alcohol, 2 to 6ml three times a day (Hoffman 2003)
Start with small amounts of fresh seeds up to one teaspoon a day.
Salty and astringent (tastes like grass!)
Some report that Dwarf Nettle (urtica urens) has a sweet taste. (Upton 2012)
Neutral – Some herbalists describe nettle as cooling (when used to reduce inflammation, for example) while other herbalists describe nettle as warming (as when boosting the circulatory system).
Gulcin, Ilhami, et.al.,Antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiulcer and analgesic activities of nettle (Urtica dioica L.), Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 90 (2004), 205-215.
Upton, Roy, Stinging nettles leaf (urtica dioica L.): Extraordinary vegetable medicine, Journal of Herbal Medicine, 3 (2013), 9-38.
Borchers, Andrea T., et al., Inflammation and Native American medicine: the role of botanicals, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72 (2000), 339-47.
Rayburn, Keith, et al., Stinging Nettle Cream for Osteoarthritis, Alternative Therapies, 15 (2009), 60-1.
Yang, Cindy L.H., et al., Scientific Basis of Botanical Medicine as Alternative Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis, Clinic Rev Allergy Immunol, 44 (2013), 284-300.
Riehemann, Kristina, et al., Plant extracts from stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), an antirheumatic remedy, inhibit the proinflammatory transcription factor NF-kB, Federation of European Biochemical Societies Letters, 442 (1999), 89-94.
Broekaert, Willem F., et al., A Chitin-Binding Lectin from Stinging Nettle Rhizomes with Antifungal Properties, Science, 245 (1989), 1100-1102.
Gulcin, Ilhami, et al., Antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiulcer and analgesic activities of nettle (Urtica dioica L.), Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 90 (2004), 205-215.
Chrubasik, Julia E., et al., A comprehensive review on nettle effect and efficacy profiles, Part I: Herba urticae, Phytomedicine, 14 (2007), 423-435.
Chrubasik, Julia E., et al., A comprehensive review on nettle effect and efficacy profiles, Part II: Urticae radix, Phytomedicine, 14 (2007), 568-579
Randall, C., et al., Randomized controlled trial of nettle sting for treatment of base-of-thumb pain, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 93 (2000), 305-309.
Hoffman, David, Medical Herbalism: the Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, Healing Arts Press, ochester, VT (2003).
Hoffman, David, The Complete Illustrated Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, NY (1999).
Meredith, Leda, Northeast Foraging, Timber Press, Portland, OR (2014).
Falconi, Dina, Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, Botanical Arts Press, LLC, Accord, NY (2013)