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The Versatile Stinging Nettle

Jean's Greens #78
Jean Argus

Nettle is a perennial plant found all over the world, usually growing in gardens and along roadsides and fences. Its small, green flowers bloom in drooping clusters from July to September. Nettle gets its sting from bristly hairs that act like tiny hypodermic needles, injecting an irritating substance when touched. Most people develop tiny blisters and an itching rash from live nettle, but its sting is destroyed by boiling water, making nettle tea a safe and popular beverage. Young plants in early spring can be eaten raw in salads before their sting develops.

  • Nettle tea: Use 1 heaping teaspoon per cup; pour boiling water over the loose tea, cover, let stand 10-15 minutes, strain, and serve.
  • Nettle decoction: The same, but simmer the tea 5 minutes, covered, then let stand.
  • Nettle Root Tincture: Dig the roots in spring or fall, clean them well with a brush, chop them, and loosely fill a jar or bottle. Add enough vodka or other 80-proof alcohol to cover the chopped roots and let stand in a warm place for at least two weeks, shaking the jar daily. Strain through coffee filter paper, bottle, and store in a cool, dark place.
  • Nettle Bath: Place 1 cup chopped stinging nettle in a large bowl, pitcher, or measuring cup and cover with boiling water. Cover and let stand 10-15 minutes. Strain into bath, which should be comfortably warm but not too hot. Soak for 20 minutes; without rinsing off, towel dry lightly, and stay warm for at least an hour.
  • Nettle Foot Bath: Soak 1 large handful of washed roots and twice as much nettle plant (stems and leaves) in 4-5 quarts cold water overnight. Bring to a boil, let cool, and soak the feet. The mixture can be used a second time before discarding.
  • Nettle Hair Wash: Add a double handful of fresh or dried nettle to 1 quart water, cover, and slowly bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand 10-15 minutes.
  • Nettle Scalp Wash: Combine ½ cup chopped leaves, 2 cups water, and 2 cups vinegar. Bring to a boil, covered, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Let stand until cool. Massage into scalp.
  • Nettle Juice: Put a handful of fresh nettle through a juice extractor, or grind it in a meat grinder or food processor, then press through muslin or cheesecloth. Mix an equal amount of water and refrigerate. One teaspoon is roughly equivalent to one cup of nettle tea.

According to John Lust in The Herb Book, "The fresh juice or an infusion of nettle has been used to stimulate the digestive system and to promote milk flow in nursing mothers. As an astringent it is used for blood in the urine, hemorrhoids, and excessive menstrual flow. Nettle is a helpful remedy for ailments of the urinary tract and is said to reduce susceptibility to rheumatic problems and colds."

In Back to Eden, Jethro Kloss wrote, "This herb will help prevent scrofula. It is an excellent remedy for kidney trouble. It will expel gravel from the bladder and increase the flow of urine. Splendid for neuralgia. A poultice of the green steeped leaves will relieve pain; however, such a poultice will raise blisters if kept in too long. The tea will kill and expel worms. For diarrhea, dysentery, piles, hemorrhages, hemorrhoids, gravel, or inflammation of the kidneys, make a decoction using a teaspoon to a cup of water and simmer for ten minutes. For chronic rheumatism, take the bruised leaves and rub on the skin. Tea made from the root will cure dropsy in the first stages and will stop hemorrhage from the urinary organs, lungs, intestines, nose, and stomach. The boiled leaves applied externally will stop bleeding almost immediately. Nettle tea is good for fever and colds. Very fine for eczema. Tea made from the leaves of the nettle will expel phlegm form the lungs and stomach and will clean out the urinary passages."

Used as a final rinse after shampooing, nettle tea is said to restore the natural color of hair. Massaged into the scalp, it is said to cure dandruff. We know one man who claims that rubbing his scalp with fresh stinging nettle, which hurts, has caused new hair to grow.

Inviting the nettle to sting is an old treatment for other ills as well. In Common and Uncommon Uses of Herbs for Healthful Living, Richard Lucas wrote, "In Germany and Russia, country people treat rheumatism by 'urtication,' that is, by rubbing or striking the affected part with a bundle of fresh nettles. This is done for one or two minutes daily and sometimes more often. Father Kneipp recommended the same method and use of the plant for rheumatism with the assurance that 'The fear of the unaccustomed rod will soon give way to joy at its remarkable healing efficacy.'" Many claim that nettle's sting reduces the symptoms of arthritis and sciatica as well. For sciatica, lightly brush a branch of stinging nettle up and down the inside and outside of the leg three times. For arthritis, lightly brush the nettle against affected joints. Lucas wrote, "A case was reported where a woman who had been suffering for years with rheumatism went blackberry picking, and much to her consternation repeatedly brushed her legs against nettle. To her astonishment about three days later her rheumatic limbs were practically free of pain and she has been better ever since."

Lucas also documented nettle's use in the treatment of gout, tuberculosis, constipation, migraine, high blood pressure, anemia, and hives.

According to The Encyclopedia of Health and Home, 5 drops of nettle tincture taken 4 or 5 times daily is "an excellent remedy for hives. For hemorrhages, the juice of fresh leaves is regarded as more effective than the decoction, given in teaspoonful doses every hour or so, as often as the nature of the case demands. It is a favorite remedy among the Germans for neuralgia to be taken in doses of 4 tablespoons of the decoction three times a day, and at the same time bruise the leaves and apply as a poultice to the affected parts."

Dr. Vogel observed in Swiss Nature Doctor: "no other plant can equal the nettle in cases of anemia, chlorisis, rickets, scrofula, respiratory diseases, and especially lymphatic troubles." Dr. Vogel recommended using chopped young leaves as a garnish on salads and soups, mixing the juice with potatoes and other vegetables, and cooking young nettles in oil with a little onion.

  • Acne: Maria Treben wrote, "No medicinal plant is better at purifying the blood and stimulating the production of fresh, healthy blood cells than the common stinging nettle. If you suffer from acne, avoid rich, heavy foods and drink four cups of nettle tea each day."
  • Anemia: Nettles contain iron and make an effective remedy for iron deficiency anemia, especially when fresh nettles are available. Make a strong tea and drink 3-4 cups daily for at least four weeks. Cook and serve nettles (use any recipe for spinach) as often as possible, and when young leaves are available, use them as salad garnish as well.
  • Arthritis: Drink 4 cups nettle tea daily. Maria Treben recommends alternating cups of nettle and horsetail tea.
  • Bleeding, hemorrhage: Apply fresh plant, cotton soaked with tincture, or residue from tea as a poultice or compress. To help arrest internal bleeding and heavy menstruation, drink several cups strong nettle tea.
  • Circulation: To improve the circulation, add nettle tea to bath water, soak the feet in nettle foot baths, and massage nettle tea or tincture into chest, arms, legs, etc.
  • Constipation: Maria Treben recommends 1 cup unsweetened nettle tea taken half an hour before breakfast, and 2 or 3 cups during the day.
  • Corns: Take daily nettle footbaths and apply nettle tincture. Drink 2-3 cups nettle tea daily.
  • Dandruff: Dilute a mild castile shampoo with nettle hair wash (see recipe). Massage into scalp and let stand a few minutes. Rinse well, repeat, then massage nettle hair wash into the scalp as a final rinse. For best results, refrigerate first; a cold final rinse makes hair shinier.
  • Fatigue: Drink 3-4 cups nettle tea daily.
  • Garden spray: Make a strong nettle tea, let it cool, then strain it into a garden sprayer and spray vegetables, flowers, herbs, and other plants every other day. This treatment improves the plants' health and deters insect pests.
  • Gout: Drink 3-4 cups nettle tea per day, and take nettle baths or nettle foot baths daily.
  • Hair: To stimulate hair growth, use the recipes for nettle hair and scalp wash, above. An infusion made from nettle roots is said to make the hair grow stonger and thicker. Massage nettle tincture into the scalp daily.
  • Headache: Drink up to 4 cups of nettle tea daily. Massage nettle tincture into temples and forehead. Relax with a nettle foot bath.
  • Nail Fungus: Drink nettle tea, take nettle foot baths or soak hands in nettle tea, and apply nettle root tincture several times daily.
  • Nosebleed: Soak cotton with nettle tea, fresh juice, or diluted tincture and apply as a compress. Hold in place 5-10 minutes. Repeat as needed.
  • Prostate: Drink 3-4 cups nettle tea daily.
  • Rheumatism: Drink nettle tea and take frequent nettle baths.
  • Stomach cramps: Drink 3-4 cups nettle tea daily.

The uses given here are well documented but are not intended to diagnose or prescribe. Any herb taken in excess may be harmful. Before taking herbal products if pregnant, or for the diagnosis and treatment of any physical problem, consult a health care professional.