Dead nettle is a perennially growing flowering herb belonging to the Lamiaceae family. The stems of this plant may grow up to a height of 2 feet. The leaves of the plant are oval, jagged, have long stalks and are arranged in pairs opposite to each other. The leaves have a triangular smoothed base and grow up to 3 cm to 8 cm in length and are 2 cm to 5 cm in width. In addition, dead nettle leaves are softly bristled having an indented border and a petiole that is approximately 5 cm in length. Similar to several other members of the Lamiaceae family, dead nettle leaves seem to be outwardly akin to the leaves of stinging nettle (botanical name, Urtica dioica), but they do not possess the sting. The apparent similarity helps to put off rabbits as well as other herbivorous animals from eating the plant - they are apprehensive that this plant may also sting.
The plant bears white flowers during the period between May and October that appear in whorls in the leaf axils. Dead nettle flowers possess two lips - the upper lip is hooked and hairy on the exterior, while the lower lip has around two to three lobes.
Since dead nettle has a very similar superficial appearance to the stinging nettle, hikers are likely to generally avoid this undamaging plant. On the other hand, bumblebees are not likely to be misleading in the same manner. In fact, bumblebees swarm the flowers of dead nettle for they are aware that the plant, akin to other members in the mint family, possesses a profuse supply of nectar. In effect, dead nettle is said to be ‘dead' only because it does not have the sting. People in Britain call the dead nettle ‘archangel', perhaps owing to the fact that its first blooms of the season appear sometime around May 8 - the day was once celebrated as Archangel Michael's feast day.
It may be noted that in conventional medicine dead nettle has never been considered as a great herbal remedy and, hence, it has never found an appropriate place. Nevertheless, the herb has been a well-accepted traditional medication for a number of health conditions. This flowering plant encloses high amounts of tannins and has been effective for dressing injuries, cuts and burns owing to its anti-inflammatory as well as astringent attributes. In addition, an herbal tea brewed with dead nettle is known to be an excellent remedy for diarrhea. In earlier days, dead nettle was held in repute in England for its supposed efficacy in curing scrofula (tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands) purported as the King's Evil, since people believed that the ailment could be cured by the touch of a monarch. In effect, ancient Roman naturalist and physician Pliny had already mentioned about the dead nettle leaves in the first century A.D. as a traditional medication for this ailment when it is blended with axle grease.
The dead nettle plant possesses demulcent and astringent attributes. This plant has numerous remedial utilities, including its main use as a tonic for the uterus to regulate inter-menstrual hemorrhage as well as lessen too much of menstrual flow. This herb is very beneficial for women as it is also used to tread irregular vaginal discharges. Occasionally dead nettle is taken internally to alleviate menstrual pain. The astringent attribute of this plant aids in curing diarrhea and it is also applied topically to ease varicose veins and haemorrhoids.
Dead nettle plant is also edible and one can use it as a nourishing vegetable or, alternately, as a soup green. An herbal tea prepared using the flowering dead nettle plant is considered to be a home-made medication for curing diarrhea. According to pharmacologists, using the herb to treat diarrhea may be highly effective owing to the tannins enclosed by dead nettle.
The flowering tops of the dead nettle plant also enclose a number of therapeutic properties, for instance, they are astringent, antispasmodic, depurative (purifying), cholagogue (promote secretion of bile), expectorant, diuretic, hypnotic (a substance that induces sleep), haemostatic (any substance that stops or slows down flow of blood), resolvent (a medicinal substance that alleviates swelling or inflammation), pectoral (any substance that is good for the chest or breast), tonic, styptic, sedative, vulnerary (herbs that promote healing of wounds) and vasoconstrictor (constriction of the blood vessels). An infusion prepared with the flowering tops of dead nettle is an excellent remedy for urinary bladder and kidney problems, menstrual disorders, diarrhea, hemorrhage following childbirth, abnormal vaginal discharges as well as inflammation of the prostate gland, also known as prostatitis. The infusion is also applied topically as compresses to effectively treat varicose veins, piles and ease ophthalmic problems.
The dead nettle plant is generally harvested during summer and it can be dehydrated and stored for use when necessary. In effect, dead nettle also forms the base of a homeopathic medication.
The haemostatic, tranquilizing and gentle astringent actions of Lamium, the plant family to which dead nettle belongs, are attributed to the tannins enclosed by the plants. Similarly, the saponins contained by them are said to be responsible for their gentle expectorant action. Preparations using dead nettle herb can be used in various ways, including as a compress to treat eczema, wounds and burns and also as a gargle to cure aching throats. In fact, dead nettle is an effective herbal medication for regulating the intestinal activities and bowel movements. Herbalists in France use this plant to rinse out the kidneys as well as to cure haematuria (presence of red blood cells in urine).
In Sweden, people often consume the leaves of dead nettle in the form of a pot-herb. However, the leaves have an unacceptable smell when they are crushed. The stalks of dead nettle are a plaything for young boys, who use them as whistles. The plant has been widely used as an herbal tea to treat lung problems. The leaves of the plant are crushed and applied topically to cure tumours as well as scrofula (initial stage of tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands).
Dead nettle plant also has another attribute and it has got something to do with the reputation of this plant. During the periods of great famines, people in many European countries boiled the leaves of the plant and seasoned it using spices and consumed them as firsthand food, which is completely safe for eating.
Habitat and cultivation
Dead nettle is native to Europe from where the plant was introduced to North America. Currently, it is found growing naturally over an expanse extending from Quebec to Minnesota and in the south to Virginia.
Chemical analysis of the dead nettle has shown that the plant encloses a number of tannic substances, flavones, mucilage, sugars, a glycoside as well as some traces of an essential oil. A number of other authors assert that this plant also encloses a saponin concentration, which decreases in quantity as the plant grows up to the leaves and flowers. The most typical pharmacological attributes of dead nettle are associated with its tonic and astringent actions owing to the presence of tannins and being somewhat antiseptic. In addition, the plant also possesses hemostatic attributes owing to the presence of phenols and flavonoids, while the presence of mucilage is responsible for the plant's demulcent action.
Dead nettle is used in two main ways - an infusion and extracts. An infusion is prepared using 30 grams of the flowering tops of the plant in one litre water. For best results, this infusion should be taken thrice daily. The fluid extracts from the plant may be taken in doses of 20 to 30 drops thrice every day.