A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
The herb known as the nettle is a small plant reaching about two to three feet in height with an erect stem; it bears dark green leaves that are marked by serrated margins. The nettle gives out small and inconspicuous flowers when in bloom. The nettle has now been designated by international botanists as the Urtica dioica L. and the herb belongs to the plant family Urticaceae. There are many sub-species of this plant and the American variety differs from the typical European sub-species of the nettle called Urtica dioica, the main difference between these two sub-species of the same plant lying in the fact that the European plant bears both male and female flowers - it is dioecious. This classification is also challenged at the same time by certain botanists, who see the varieties of the U. dioica subspecies - gracilis as distinct species of plants in their own right, even though very similar to the nettle. North America has four distinct species of the Urtica - two subspecies and six varieties in total; all of these bear sharp stinging hairs - hence, the common name, the nettle. People tend to refer to the plant with very uncomplimentary names, following accidental contact of the skin with these stinging hairs.
Herbal medicine traditionally uses the entire herb in the preparation of the remedy, and the whole plant is collected just before the flowering season, the herb has seen a lot of use and developed a lengthy reputation in popular folk medicine around the world - the main use being as a specific herbal remedy for the treatment of asthma in patients. Herbal remedies derived from the nettle have also been used as expectorants, in an anti-spasmodic role, as a diuretic, as an astringent, and as an herbal tonic for overall health. Topical treatments are also based on the nettle, and the herbal remedy is applied directly to the scalp, especially the fresh juice of the herb, this remedy is said to stimulate hair growth in patients with hair loss problems. Placing nettle leaves directly on the affected areas of the body is also said to cure all cases of chronic rheumatism, this topical treatment is a very popular herbal remedy. The traditional uses of the nettle are almost legendary and have been known down the centuries, it is reported anecdotally that the Roman soldiers, facing the inhospitable weather and climate of occupied Britain, used the irritation induced by nettle leaves to keep their legs warmed in winter. Culinary recipes have also seen the use of the tender tops of young and first growth nettles, these parts of the herb are especially palatable or so it is said when cooked well. There are numbers of culinary recipes which utilize the nettle as the main course - these include pudding made from nettle and the technique to develop a unique beer from the nettle.
Scientists have studied the results of many chemical analyses carried out on the nettle, and these tests have shown that the nettle contains more than twenty different chemical compounds as primary constituents. However, very few of them are likely to give a person a significant therapeutic benefit when used as internal herbal medicine. Evidence moreover, does not support the contention that the nettle is highly effective in the treatment of disorders such as rheumatism or the received wisdom that it can induce hair growth on bald heads, these is despite the very real localized skin irritation produced by the stinging hairs when contact is made with human skin. Chemicals in the stinging hair thought to be the ones responsible for the strong and irritating action include the compound histamine, the compound acetylcholine, and the chemical known as 5-hydroxytryptamine which have all been detected during scientific analysis carried out on the hairs. The identity of the chemical compounds is however, disputed by the results of other studies carried out on other plants of the closely related, and much more toxic, genus of Laportea, for this reason, the real identity of the compounds which induce the irritation and pain during contact is still to be confirmed and requires further investigation.
The total content of plant pigment chlorophyll is high in the nettle and the plant therefore serves as an easily available and commercial source for herbal extraction of this important pigment. Culinary uses of the herb are also many, and the young nettle shoots are very edible, and these are often cooked to make delicious herbal dishes. Moreover, their content of important compounds is high and the shoots may approximately provide the same amounts of carotene - or the pro-vitamin A and the vitamin C as vegetables like the spinach or other similar greens normally used in dishes. Traditionally, herbalist have also recognized the potent diuretic properties of the nettle leaf, and right now several pharmaceutical preparations have incorporated the leaves in products which are currently marketed in the European market - this diuretic action of the compounds present in the leaves is a confirmed property of the nettle. In recent years, the extract made from the roots of the nettle has assumed some popularity in Europe for the treatment of urinary retention arising as a result of disorders such as a benign prostate hypertrophy - which is the enlargement of the prostate gland unconnected to prostate cancer. The effectiveness of the nettle extract in this role has been supported by some clinical evidence, some of the positive results came from eight open ended and observational studies utilizing two placebo-controls, during the course of rigorous double-blind studies conducted on different patients. Due to these confirmed results, and as far as urinary retention is concerned, the nettle has passed the approval of German health authorities and the product is currently marketed and widely used in that country. At the same time, the need for additional scientific studies to investigate the other traditional medical use of nettle is great and verification is required for many of the traditionally touted properties of the plant including the property of treating urinary retention mentioned above.
As an edible plant, nettles can be considered very high in nutrition value, and the species also have high content of many important vitamins and essential minerals, especially important ones such as iron, essential minerals such as silica and the essential mineral potassium. This high mineral and vitamin content may be one reason for the traditional use of the nettle for centuries to make very nourishing tonics for the treatment of physical weakness and debilitation, as an aid to the process of convalescence and in the treatment of symptoms connected with anemia. The detoxification of the body is another important property of the nettles and through their stimulating action on the functioning of the bladder and the kidneys, the nettles helps in cleansing the body of all accumulated toxins and in the rapid removal of metabolic waste. Fluid retention is also alleviated by using the herbal remedies made from the nettles; it is also used in the treatment of various bladder infections, and in the destruction of stones and gravel in the body. The herbal remedies made from the nettles are also effective in aiding in the excretion of accumulated uric acid, for this reason the herb is an excellent remedy for the treatment of gout and severe arthritis as well as in the treatment of various skin problems affecting patients.
Aerial parts, root.
The main use of the herbal remedies made from the nettle is in the role of a cleansing and detoxifying agent in the body. The diuretic action of the nettle is also a highly regarded property possessed by the herb; this property is probably due to the high content of bio-molecules known as the flavonoids and may also be because of the high potassium levels in the herb. The main property of the herbal remedy in this role is that it increases the total production of urine and helps in the effective elimination of accumulated metabolic waste products in the body. Various skin disorders and conditions are also effectively treated using herbal remedies derived from the nettle, as an example, the cases of childhood eczema and arthritic problems are treated using the nettle, and the herbal remedy is extensively used in the treatment of very poor or impaired kidney functioning, beside its use in treating fluid retention issues.
Bleeding in any area of the body is treatable by the strong astringent action of the nettle. Nettle in the form of an herbal infusion, as a tincture or in the fresh juice form can be applied externally as a topical measure for the treatment of various cuts and wounds to stanch the bleeding, it can be used in cases of hemorrhoids, it can stanch nose bleeds, and it can also be used as a soothing and healing salve against various burns and scald injuries. The herbal remedies made from the nettle have also been extensively used as a remedy for stemming bleeding during heavy menstrual periods, and paradoxically also in inducing bleeding during delayed or absent periods in women. The nettle remedies also stimulate the production of milk in lactating women, and have a galactagogue role in such cases. The herbal remedies made from the nettle can also be used as an excellent restorative remedy for treatment during menopause in women.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
The nettle plant is native to temperate regions largely lying in the northern hemisphere, it also grows wild in southern Africa, and in the Andes, and even in areas of Australia. The herb has many uses, and the young shoots are harvesting during the spring for use as a vegetable and to prepare an herbal tonic to be used in the treatment of various disorders. During the summer season, the aerial parts of the herb and especially the leaves are plucked when the plant is in full bloom. Autumn is the time when nettle roots are harvested and used in the preparation of various herbal remedies.
The confirmation of the medicinal value of nettle root remedy in the treatment of cases of benign prostate hypertrophy - or enlargement of the gland - has been confirmed in various researches conducted in the US, Germany and Japan.
The majority of patients, who make use of nettle based herbal remedies, generally use two to three 300 mg nettle leaf capsules or the herbal tablets as and when required. Dosage of 2-4 ml herbal nettle tincture, can also be taken if preferred, this can be used thrice every day as a preventive medication during the allergy season - hay fever for example can be prevented as well as treated using this remedy. The doses for the treatment disorders such as BPH can be undertaken by using one 240 mg tablet or capsule form of the root extract daily - this is the normal dose of most patients afflicted by this condition. The herbal products used in the treatment of BPH often use an herbal combination of the nettle root with other extracts such as the saw palmetto or pygeum extracts to give the maximum beneficial effects for rapid healing and recovery.
Side effects and cautions
The nettle based herbal remedies do not induce allergic reactions and if they do so, such instances are very rare and far apart. At the same time, the fresh nettles can induce rash when the plants stinging hairs come in direct contact with naked skin - this is probably a familiar experience for many people.
How it works in the body
While the stinging hairs of the nettle can inflict painful stings on the skin externally, such effects are subdued and non-existent when the plant is subjected to heat, though the process of cooking or when made the herb is made into an infusion for medicinal use. At the same time, and many skin complaints are ironically treated using the nettle stings in the form of an anti-allergenic herb. The herbal remedies made from the nettle are used in the treatment of skin disorders such as eczema and to beat back the symptoms induced by other related allergies - the nettle is taken as an internal herbal medication in all such cases. The anti-hemorrhagic actions of the nettle is also used effectively in many forms of herbal medicine, excessive bleeding can be stanched by its astringent action, in this form the herb can stop bleeding arising either from wounds, or due to impairment in the reproductive system such as to diminish heavy bleeding occurring during menstrual disorders. The nettle herb also has high content of useful minerals such as the iron and a lot of vitamin C, for this reason the herb is an excellent tonic for the treatment of anemia and to fortify the diet when the body lacks iron. Traditionally the sting of the nettle was used initially along with the first herbs of spring, as an herbal spring tonic to treat various disorders. Enlargement in the prostate gland is also treated using an herbal remedy made from the roots of the nettle.
Healthy-blood herbal tea
Boil the plants for 3 minutes. Infuse. Drink hot before breakfast and lunch to enrich the blood, drain the kidneys and treat allergies or prostate problems. If the plants are dry and the water has evaporated, extend the treatment for 1 month and double the dosage.
Stinging nettle for arthritic pain
To prepare the tea as it is given here you will need a juicer. If this recipe is too troublesome for you, you may find a similar prepared mixture in your health food store.
Bring all ingredients, except for the honey, to a boil, skim off the foam and strain out the plant debris. Sweeten with honey before drinking. With respect to the dosage, for 15 days you should drink this in moderate amounts on an empty stomach, but after meals, abundantly. If you opt for the packaged tea, take 2 cups a day for 2 weeks.