The sharp, sudden and painful sting of the stinging hairs of the Stinging Nettle can sting through cloth gloves and clothing. They prick the skin, and the tip breaks off easily. This tip is a hollow needle which injects histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, and formic acid.
Believe it or not, this article is about the positive value of Stinging Nettle.
First, the pain of its sting is from these irritating chemicals. It is not an allergic reaction; but before getting to the medicinal and nutritional value of this remarkable plant, let's identify it:
Its common name is the American Stinging Nettle. Its Latin name is Urtica dioica. Its family name is Urticaceae.
It is found along stream banks, disturbed farmland, ditches, forest edges, and meadows with rich soil. Dense stands of this plant spread with rhizomes (underground stems). They sprout in early spring.
Their stems are slender. Flowers are found between the leaf and stem. Both male and female flowers appear on the same plant.
The leaves are approximately 2-4 inches in length. They are opposite each other, with tapered tips, toothed edges, and they are very green.
They have both stinging and non-stinging hairs on the stems. The stem is part of the leaf on the underside. The stinging hairs are longer than the others. Stingers act as a defense against grazing animals.
Seeds grow out from the flower location. The plant grows 4-8 feet tall.
Properties and Actions
Singing Nettles are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, diuretic, and it is an anesthetic.
The anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties work in two ways. It provides an important and hard to find function of stabilizing mast cells which are the initial alarm bells for the body to mount an immune response. In addition, it works with the digestion of proteins. Quite often allergic reactions come from ingested proteins that interact with the immune system. Historically, this has made an allergic response difficult to predict. Matthew Wood points to nettle’s ability to support the liver in its function to digest blood proteins which makes it an indispensable tonic for protein based allergies. See Nettle Monograph
This plant is also a rubefacient. A rubefacient is a substance for topical application that produces redness of the skin by causing dilation of the capillaries and an increase in blood circulation.
It is also an astringent. An astringent applied to the skin can reduce bleeding from minor abrasions because it makes the skin contract.
It is also a hypoglycemic. It lowers the glucose level in the blood.
It is also an analgesic (a pain reliever).
It is also vulnerary (of medical use in healing wounds).
It is also styptic (a substance capable of causing bleeding to stop).
The older texts suggest nettle can be used for arthritis, rheumatism, tumors, gangrene, ulcers and dog bites. Also along with dandelion, nettle was used to cleanse the blood by working through the entire bodily systems.
The actual stinging property has been used in the past to treat arthritic conditions. People would rub or whip themselves with the full plant to bring about the irritating reaction of the chemical sting in order to get blood flowing to the area.
It has other medical uses as well.
Illnesses that Nettles have been shown to help
Urinary dysfunctions, diabetes, prostate issues, osteoarthritis, allergies, eczema psoriasis excessive bleeding and others.
If plant is dried, cooked, extracted or powdered, no reaction takes place in the body in regards to the stinging property.
Parts used – leaves, stems, flowers/seeds, and roots. Collect in early to late spring for greens, and any time for drying.
Food – cooking deactivates the stinging properties. It is rich in Vitamin A, C, E, F, K, P, zinc, magnesium, iron, copper, bromine, chlorophyll, potassium, iodine, chromium, formic acid, carbonic acid, selenium, boron, chlorine, phosphorus, sodium, silica, and sulfur. Also high levels of Vitamin B-complexes, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B-6.
Note that bromine is likely to be added to the list of essential elements. See this link.
Harvest young plants by either cutting the stem, or harvesting just the leaves. Cut them from the stem and drop in a bowl or basket. Rinse and stir up the leaves, soak for a few minutes, and rinse and stir again.
Cook in fry pan with your favorite oil until leaves are soft and flimsy. Add spices or other foods like onions and garlic. They will look like fried spinach.
Fresh or dried nettle can also be used in soups, stews, stir fry’s and anything that cooks the leaves till they are flimsy.
For tea, add a small amount of dried nettle in a tea ball or spoon, and steep like normal tea for a few minutes. You can add local honey or local maple syrup to the tea for a touch of sweetness. The tea will be an off greenish yellow color. The longer you steep it, the darker it will become.
Infusion – similar to tea, dried herb is placed in a quart jar and covered with just boiled water. Cover and allow to steep overnight. I put mine in the window sill facing the moon. In the morning, strain and drink through the day. It is best cool or cold – it can be placed in the fridge if you don’t drink it right away. If you leave it out or leave it for a few days in the fridge, it will get swampy (compost it at that stage!).
Some Fun Facts
During the Middle Ages, nettle beer was used as a remedy for rheumatism, and the leaves were wrapped around fruits to help them ripen.
Stems were used for bow strings, cord, rope, cloth, baskets and fishnets.
The Makah of the Olympic Peninsula used to rub it into their skin after bathing as a stimulant.
During the cotton shortages in WWII, Germany used nettle fiber to make their military uniforms.
Hungarian lore – carry nettle in your pocket to protect you from lightening storms.
Celtic lore – indicator of a faery or elf dwelling.
Doctrine of Signatures – the signature of the stinger is definitive in establishing boundaries.
Stinging Nettles – Learn More!
Just doing a regular search online will bring you to a myriad of sites with information. BE SURE to choose herbal, medical, or research sites for your information, and cross-check with a number of sources.
American Botanical Council Stinging Nettle - American Botanical Council (herbalgram.org)
Stinging Nettle - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation
Deb Faylo - firstname.lastname@example.org