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Nettle is highly nutritious, particularly in iron

Nettle

Urtica dioica / Urtica urens Urticaceae

Nettle leaf is a classic country vegetable with therapeutic benefits, much used to build strength after illness and to detox the body, especially in spring when it is at its most effective.

  • How does it feel?

    Nettle leaf when cooked has a taste and aroma similar to cooked spinach. This reminds us that above all this is a food plant. The lack of strong taste and other impacts is also associated in traditional medicine with a diuretic action and this is one of the other distinguishing features of this plant.

  • What can I use it for?

    Nettle leaf is very nutritious, rich in iron, magnesium, calcium, chromium, zinc, potassium, phosphorous and silicon. The nutritional content, particularly the iron, makes this herb an excellent support for fatigue, convalescing after illness, and anaemia.

    Nettle is classed as a diuretic and is reputed to remove the body’s acidic metabolites through the urine. The best leaves are collected in the spring and nettle was long used for ‘spring clean’ detox regimes. This cleansing effect was particularly applied in European tradition to relieving arthritic joint pain and more general aches and pains.

    More robust benefits for arthritis were in the widespread rural habit of beating stinging nettles on painful joints. The stings set up a counter-irritation that in effect generates healing responses similar to those provoked by inflammation.

    Nettles perform like natural anti-histamines, calming allergic reactions, particularly in seasonal allergies and the skin.

  • Into the heart of Nettle

    Nettle is sometimes described as a ‘pirate plant’: it invades almost any environment and is often prolific enough to be classed as a troublesome weed. This is evidence of its ability to extract nutrients out of even the most challenging soil, and explains its rich nutritional properties.

    It’s an incredibly nutritive herb that supports convalescence, nutritional disorders and blood based disorders, nourishing and strengthening the whole body. Almost in contrast to this, nettle also helps to cleanse the body and is a traditional herb chosen to ‘spring clean’ your insides.

    It will remove excesses of uric acid and general acidity from the body in addition to supporting the general phases of detoxification that take place in the liver.  Its anti-histaminic activity within the immune system also means that nettles have the ability to regulate the immune response, restoring a sense of balance, particularly for allergic skin reactions and reactions that target the respiratory system.

    The nettle plant itself also contains very strong fibres that were traditionally used to make cloth.

  • Traditional uses

    Traditional indications for nettle leaf in Western herbal medicine include uterine haemorrhage, epistaxis and cutaneous eruptions. Medicinal monographs in Europe support the traditional use of nettle leaf in rheumatic and arthritic conditions. There is a long tradition, going back to at least Roman times, of using nettle stings as a counter-irritant for the relief of arthritic pain.

  • What practitioners say

    Skin: Nettle is indicated in allergic skin conditions and reactions such as eczema and allergic dermatitis, partly due to its ability to calm the allergic immune response but also because it purifies the blood supply by supporting natural detoxification and cleansing processes within the body.

    Immune: Nettle is anti-histaminic and is indicated in any allergic reaction, particularly seasonal disorders such as hay fever but also in allergic skin reactions. It will balance and calm and overactive immune system.

    Musculoskeletal: Indicated where there is excessive acidity within the joints, such as in gout. Nettle will also act as a general diuretic, removing any excessive levels of heat and fluid around the joints.

    Metabolic: Nettle has demonstrated the ability to balance the blood sugar, particularly targeting hyperglycaemia.

    Liver: Nettle supports the phases of detoxification in the liver, enhancing natural cleansing and detoxification processes.

    Urinary and kidney: As nettle is a diuretic, it can help to reduce fluid accumulation and inflammatory congestion within the kidney and urinary systems, including the prostate where there may be early signs of BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia).

    The modern use of nettle root is mainly to treat symptoms of urinary tract discomfort in men with benign prostate hyperplasia where cancer has been ruled out.

    External uses: Apply fresh juice or tea to bleeding cuts and wounds, haemorrhoids, nosebleeds, burns, sunburn, scalds, bites and stings. Ointment/cream for irritating skin conditions, e.g. eczema. “Urtication” involves stinging skin with fresh nettles to stimulate circulation, relieve pain and swelling of arthritis.

  • Research

    There are a number of research studies of variable quality that point to benefits of nettle on relieving arthritic pain (including reducing the need for pain relieving drugs) and impairment.

    There are positive results for nettle in a study to explore the effect of various herbs on high blood pressure.

    Traditional reputation for easing hayfever and allergies is supported by a study showing positive benefits in the relief of allergic rhinitis.

    Two randomised controlled clinical trials involving patients with advanced type 2 diabetes have shown that nettle could effectively and safely control a number of measures of that condition.

    Another clinical study has demonstrated positive benefits for nettle in reducing menopausal hot flushes.

    There is evidence that the use of stinging nettles externally can relieve arthritic pain.

  • Did you know?

    ‘Grasping the nettle’ is actually a familiar country trick. If you grasp a stinging nettle firmly from the base you can run your closed hand up the plant with few or even no stings: the stinging hairs point upwards. Not everyone is brave enough to try this!

Additional information

  • Safety

    Nettle leaf is very safe and is often eaten as a vegetable.

  • Dosage

    6–12 g/day of dried leaf as a tea; 4–6 g/day of dried root by decoction or as a tea

  • Constituents

    • Flavonoids
    • Nettle hairs contain leukotrienes, neutrophil chemotactic activity and histamine, also silicon
  • Traditional energetics

    • Rasa (taste) Astringent, bitter, sweet, salty.
    • Virya (action) Cooling.
    • Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Pungent.
    • Guna (quality) Light, dry, sharp, penetrating.
    • Dosha effect: strengthens vata, and reduces excessive pitta and kapha.
    • Dhatu (tissue) Rasa/plasma, rakta/ blood, majja/nervous.
    • Srotas (channels) Rakta/circulatory, prana/respiratory, mutra/urinary, stanya/ lactation, purisha/excretory
  • Recipe

    Nourishing Nettle Tea

    Earthy, herbaceous, grassy and brimming with minerals, this nourishing nettle tea is the quintessential herbal tea.

    Ingredients:

    • Nettle leaf 30g/1oz

      This will serve 2–3 cups of nettle brew.

    Method:

    • Put the nettle leaf in a pot.
    • Add 500ml (18fl oz) cold water.
    • Leave to steep for 2–4 hours (or even overnight) and then strain for a truly nourishing brew that you can drink throughout the day.

    Let me glow tea

    This delicious recipe is a healing blend of chlorophyll-rich herbs that purify the blood, soothe the liver and cleanse the skin, helping you glow from the inside out. Good for anyone with pimples, acne or other skin blemishes.

    Ingredients:

    • Nettle leaf 3g
    • Fennel seed 2g
    • Peppermint leaf 2g
    • Dandelion root 2g
    • Burdock root 2g
    • Red clover 2g
    • Turmeric root powder 1g
    • Licorice root 1g
    • Lemon juice a twist per cup

    This will serve 2 cups of beautifying tea.

    Method:

    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot (except the lemon). Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
    • Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain and add the lemon.

    Recipes from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole

Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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