Nettle is a flowering perennial that is both dioceious (separate male and female plants) and monoecious (both male and female flowers on the same plant) (Shannon 2006) (Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide). 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. The female flower has 4 to 5 sepals but no petals. The ovary contains one carpel which matures into a single seed. The male flower has 4 to 5 stamens that produce pollen for fertilizing the female flowers. Seeds are harvested from the female flowers which hang down while the male flowers gesture up.
Collect 4 to 6 leaves before flowering from the tops of each plant no more than 4 inches– late spring to early summer. Cutting just above the leaf nodes can encourage further growth. 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 begin to rest. Stingers – gloves and care should be used when harvesting any part of this plant
No sustainability issues to note. Nettle reseeds easily even after mowing and has a network of rhizomes underground. BIPOC cultures such as mine believe in only foraging what you will use or need and giving thanks for that. Assuring that there is enough left for others plus enough to sustain the patch for the next year and beyond.
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, chlorophyll, glucoquinine, iron, serotonin, protein, fiber, silica, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, sodium, albuminoids
Nettle root is used, especially in Europe, as a tonic for the kidneys and bladder. It is used specifically to support healthy prostate gland function associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Nettle root supports prostate size, frequency of urination and the post-void residual urine in the bladder by preventing the conversion of androgens to estrogens and suppressing prostate cell metabolism. This action provides significant improvement in BPH symptoms. Nettle root is also useful in estrogen-related diseases such as breast cancer, PCOS, and hair loss. For these conditions, nettle root can reduce symptoms associated with these diseases by reducing testosterone levels – the opposite of the support provided for BPH symptoms (Composed Nutrition, 12/2019). Nettle root contains ursolic acid. When made into a cosmetic cream and used externally, it can inhibit the 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. Two neurotransmitters in nettle seed, acetylcholine and serotonin, are largely responsible for these effects.
Nettle is famous for the irritation caused by bare skin touching the stinging hairs of the plant. Surprisingly, those same stingers applied externally to the skin 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) Traditional European use includes urtication or flogging, which is beating the skin with nettle to reduce pain and inflammation.
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, gout and other muscle and joint ailments. This anti-inflammatory action also helps to alleviate symptoms of hay fever or allergic rhinitis by reducing the amount of histamine the body produces in response to an allergen. 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.
Nettle stems can be eaten and used with the leaves while young. The best time to harvest nettle stems is after a few months’ growth. These older stems are tough and fibrous and can be used like hemp or spun into yarn. Many of us use nettle yarn in weaving.
Leaf and root (fresh or dried) used for tea, tincture, or encapsulated
Young leaves and plants eaten or juiced
Seeds eaten fresh or dried or added to food.
Seeds can be tinctured as well.
Dosage and Safety
Tea- Infuse for 10 to 15 minutes 1 to 3 tsp dried per cup of hot water. Can drink up to 3 times a day. Some sources say to decoct the nettle for more than 20 minutes rather than infuse to release more minerals (Lindsey Goodwin, 2019 and The School of Evolutionary Herbalism, Issue 2, pg.20 – links in reference section).
Tincture – For dried nettle – 1:5 in 40% alcohol, 2.5 to 5 ml three times a day (Hoffman 2003). For fresh leaves – 1:3 in 75% alcohol, 1 to 3 ml per day (Country Grind Quarterly)
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.
TasteSalty 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)