The healing powers of this herb date to the third century BC, when it was used to remove venom from snakebites. Today, scientists are conforming that nettle has a valuable role to play in treating hay fever and prostate symptoms, as well as in easing the pain and inflammation of gout.
What it is?
Strange as it may sound, the original interest in using nettle for medicinal purposes was probably inspired by the plant's ability to irritate exposed skin. Nettle leaves are covered with tiny hairs – hollow needles, actually – that sting and burn upon contact. This effect was believed to be beneficial for joint pain (stinging oneself with nettle is an old folk remedy for arthritis), and for centuries nettle leaf poultices were applied to draw toxins form the skin.
Also considered a nutritious food, nettle leaves taste like spinach. They're particularly high in iron and other minerals, and are rich in carotenoids and vitamin C. (Opt for young shoots, which have no stingers, or cook the leaves of older plants.) The plant often grows up to 1.5 metres high.
What it does?
Stinging yourself with nettle leaves probably won't help your joint pain, but nettle tea applied as a compress or nettle supplements taken orally may relieve inflamed joints, especially in people with gout. In addition, when taken internally, nettle has diuretic and antihistamine properties.
As a diuretic, nettle helps the body to rid itself of excess fluid, and it may be a useful adjunct in treating many disorders. People suffering from urinary tract infections, for example, may find that it promotes urination, which flushes infection-causing bacteria out of the body. Women who become bloated just before their period may experience some relief after taking nettle supplements. The herb may also be of value in some cases of high blood pressure – which can be partly attributed to excess fluid in the body – but it should be used for this purpose only under a doctor's supervision.
One of the tried-and-true benefits of nettle is its ability to control hay fever symptoms. Nasal congestion and watery eyes result when the body produces an inflammatory compound called histamine in response to pollen or other allergies. In one study of allergy sufferers, over half of the participants rated nettle moderately to highly effective in reducing allergy symptoms when compared with a placebo.
Nettle root may be suitable for men with an enlarged prostate not caused by cancer. This condition, called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), occurs when the prostate enlarges and narrows the urethra (the tube that transports urine out to the bladder), making urination difficult. Nettle root may help to slow prostate growth.
- Helps the body to remove excess fluid.
- Relieves allergy symptoms, particularly hay fever.
- Reduces inflammation.
- May ease prostate symptoms.
- Helps urinary tract infections.
- Dried herb/tea.
- Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How to take it?
For urinary tract infections: Drink one cup of nettle tea a day. Use 1 teaspoon of the dried herb per cup of very hot water.
For allergies: Take 250 mg of standardized extract three times a day, as needed.
For BPH: Use 250 mg of standardized extract of nettle root twice a day in combination with the herbs saw palmetto (160 mg twice a day) or Epilobium parviflorum (100 mg twice a day).
For gout: Take 250 mg three times a day. You can also apply a compress of nettle tea to painful joints.
Guidelines for use:
In any of its forms, take nettle with food to minimize stomach upset. If you want to try the fresh leaves as a vegetable, keep in mind that the young shoots can be eaten raw, but older leaves (with mature, stinging hairs) must be cooked to inactivate the stingers.
Possible side effects
Generally, nettle is considered safe, with only a minimal risk of causing an allergic reaction. There have been some reports, however, that it may irritate the stomach, causing indigestion and diarrhoea.
- When buying nettle supplements, choose capsules that contain the freeze-dried herb, or an extract standardized to contain 1% plant silica, an active ingredient in nettle.
- In a preliminary study in the US, nettle helped arthritis patients to reduce the amount of pain medication they needed and diminished the drugs' side effects. Researchers found no difference in pain, stiffness or level of physical impairment between patients on 200 mg of the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac (Voltaren) and those taking 50 mg of the drug who also ate 55 g of nettle leaves each day. In previous studies, lowering the dose of diclofenac by just 25% lessened the drug's effectiveness in controlling symptoms of the disease.
- In a new US study, nettle root extract, when combined with Pygeum africanum extract, appeared to block the hormonal changes that are believed to contribute to benign prostate enlargement. (In Australia and New Zealand, Epilobium parviflorum would be substitutued for P. africanum in the treatment of prostate disorders because P. africanum is an endangered plant.)