Nettle (Urtica dioica), also known as Stinging Nettle, is a lovely plant that is is a favorite if many an herbalist (including myself!). It sometimes gets a bad reputation because its stems and leaves are covered in small, sharp spurs that can cause severe irritation and pain on areas of skin that come in contact with the plant. However, despite its sting, nettle is a valuable wonderful medicinal and a tasty, nutritious edible. There’s much to love about this wonderful herb!
Nettle grows in temperate regions all over the world. The entire plant can be utilized for food or medicine. Young nettle leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach. (Old plants may cause kidney damage when eaten raw.) Nettle is a valuable edible, as it is an excellent source of vitamins- including A, C, D and K- and minerals, like choline, lecithin, silica, and iron. The aerial parts are utilized for teas and tinctures and the roots are medicinal.
For some tasty ideas of how to add more nettle to your diet, check out these recipes:
Note: If eating nettles sounds a little dangerous to you, never fear – the plant loses its sting once it is dried or cooked. But, you may want to wear gloves while harvesting nettle and preparing any recipes with nettle to avoid getting stung during those processes.
–Nettle Beer from The Herbal Academy
–Nettle Garlic Buttermilk Biscuits from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog
–Stinging Nettle Spanikopita from Join Me For Dinner
–Nettle Pesto Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes from The Bojon Gourmet
–Nettle Chips from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog
–Stinging Nettle Lasagna from Learning Herbs
–Ali Baba’s Savory Stinging Nettle Muffins from Palachink
–Garlic Cream & Nettle Pizza from Food & Wine
–Wild Weed Frittata from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog
–Nettle-Mushroom Pie with Pine Nuts from Voodoo & Sauce
–Stinging Nettle Ravioli with Butter & Sage from La Tavola Marche
Hungry for more ways to enjoy nettle? Check out these 12 stinging nettle recipes from The Herbal Academy.
In addition to being a delicious and healthful edible, nettle is also a wonderful medicinal plant. It is a general toning herb that strengthens and nourishes the whole body, balances metabolic function, and improves circulation. It has been used traditionally as a cleansing herb because of its ability to aid elimination of waste from the body.
Nettle is especially helpful for kidney issues. It increases urine flow and can expel stones from the bladder. The tea can be drunk in cases of kidney inflammation or stones. It also improves kidney function, even in cases of severe kidney failure. Jonathan Treasure discusses the use of nettle seed tincture for treatment of serious renal issues in this case study.
Nettle helps to stop hemorrhaging and is helpful for treating excessive menstrual bleeding, wounds, and bloody noses. Herbalist, M. Grieves, states that an infusion of the dried herb, the tincture of the fresh plant, or fresh juice from the plant can be taken in doses of 1-2 tablespoons to help stop bleeding of the nose or internal organs. Herbalist, Jethro Kloss, states that applying the boiled leaves topically will stop bleeding almost instantly.
Nettle helps to treat anemia due to its high iron content. Its astringent properties make it helpful for diarrhea, intestinal infections, and hemorrhoids. Nettle can be used to boost the immune system. The root has high levels of sterol, which enhances production of white blood cells.
It also treats poor appetite and worms. A tea of the leaves is beneficial for fevers or colds. The infusion can also be used to heal and soothe burns. Cloths soaked in the tincture and applied to burns can promote rapid healing of burned skin. The tea is good to help facilitate recovery from injuries.
Nettle is also used to treat skin disorders, like eczema, psoriasis, and rashes. It is anti-allergenic and can be used for hay fever, asthma, itchy skin, and insect bites. Grieves states that nettle leaf or root juice mixed with honey or sugar will ease bronchial and asthmatic issues. The dried leaves can be burnt and inhaled for the same purpose.
Kloss recommends nettle for rheumatic conditions and neuralgia. For relief of nerve pain, he advises to make a poultice of the green steeped leaves. For painful, inflamed joints he says to rub bruised leaves on the affected area. Recently, researchers in Germany have done studies to look into nettle’s anti-arthritic & anti-inflammatory properties. One such study showed that people with arthritis who took 50g of nettle leaf daily reported significant improvement in symptoms.
Nettle root has also been gaining popularity as a treatment for enlarged prostate. Researchers in US, Germany & Japan have found nettle root to be a valuable medicine for treating benign prostrate enlargement, known as benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH).
This herb is a source of serotonin and helps to improve brain function and regulation of mood. Nettles are also helpful for reducing symptoms of adrenal exhaustion, such as severe fatigue, “brain fog,” chronic pain, and feelings of depression and anxiety. This condition is an all too common result of “modern day stress.” Michigan herbalist, jim mcdonald aptly describes how nettles can be used for this,
“Nettles are a highly regarded restorative tonic for exhausted adrenals. When people are always on the go, don’t have adequate time to relax, and feel as if their time and energy is always in demand, the adrenal glands react by producing adrenaline and other stress hormones, which creates a “fight or flight response”. Though this response is essential to keep us safe in emergency situations (oh wow… that car in front of me is stopped… and getting closer very quickly…), it is not very efficient in dealing with the prolonged “modern-day stress” most of us know all to well (deadlines at work and school, a hundred activities crammed into a two day weekend, not making time for creativity, recreation and rest, preoccupied and constantly worrying about what you’re sure you must be forgetting to do…). The result is usually a combination of exhausted lethargy and nervous anxiety; of feeling “run down” but unable to let yourself relax (I’m home from work, I just want to chill out and do nothing… but I have to do this and that and something else by tomorrow morning, and I’ll have to get up at 4:30 to get it all done… well, lets see what’s on TV… nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing… Oh my God… How could 3 1/2 hours have passed! I needed to … screw it, I’m exhausted, I’ll just go to bed… Damn it, I can’t sleep!). Nettles are good for that, and taken regularly as a nourishing restorative tonic, they will lessen the intensity and tenacity of this state.”
Nettle also promotes hair health. The tea is excellent tonic for hair that brings back natural color, helps cure dandruff, prevents hair loss, promotes hair growth, and will give hair a shine. To use, steep a teaspoon of leaves in a cup of boiling water for 30 minutes. Then use as a last rinse after shampooing. Pour the cooled tea over your head and throughly massage into scalp.
Nettle is a lovely, safe herb for pregnant and nursing mothers. It aids the production of rich, abundant breast milk. During pregnancy, it helps to provide essential nutrients for mother and baby. Regular use of this herb throughout pregnancy helps to reduce pain during and after childbirth because it is high in easily assimilated calcium, which reduces muscles pains in the uterus, legs, and other areas.
It also is an excellent source of vitamin K and increases the amount hemoglobin that is available, both of which help to decrease the risk of bleeding postpartum. In case bleeding after birth does occur, drinking fresh nettle in teaspoon doses will slow it.
Nettle can be used to ease painful childbirth. Herbalist, Kiva Rose, mentions a formula used by Darcy Williamson for painful childbirth of two parts fresh Nettle root to one part fresh Nettle seed.
Nettle is also very beneficial for the health of livestock and pets. It is a very nutritious herb that can be given to dogs and cats in teas or in a powder sprinkled on their food. It has many of the same health benefits for pets as it does for humans and is a great general tonic herb for boosting the health your furry friends.
Herbalist, Juliette de Baïracli Levy, states that dried nettle is great forage for horses and cattle because it is so rich in minerals and protein. If cut and dried it will lose its sting and will be readily eaten by many animals. Grieves recommends adding dried and powdered nettle to poultry feed to increase egg production, improve health, and to help fatten birds.
Levy also says that nettle helps prevent worms and many types of “contagious ailments” in livestock. It has been used, especially with racehorses, to make horses more spirited and make their coats more shiny. It also increases milk production and can be used in cheese making to curdle milk. For more information on making cheese with nettle, check out this tutorial for making nettle rennet from Cultures for Health.
Nettle is also a remedy for nettle rash, also known as urticaria, which is the reaction of pain and irritation that occurs when skin comes into contact with the plant. Fortunately, urticaria usually only lasts for a few hours. Putting nettle juice on the affected area will help to relieve the sting. As will rubbing the area with dock, rosemary, mint, or sage leaves.
The following infusion drunk regularly throughout the day can also help ease the urticaria: 5g each of nettle, viola tricolor (heartsease) & calendula in 3 cups (750ml) of water.
Nettle also has a variety of practical uses. It’s fiber is similar to hemp or flax and in the past it was used similarly, to make cloth and cordage. Grieves states, “In Hans Andersen’s fairy-tale of the Princess and the Eleven Swans, the coats she wove for them were made of Nettles.”
During World War II, Germany and Austria ran out of cotton and nettle was used as an effective substitute in many textiles. Cloth made from nettle fiber was used in many of the German army’s articles of clothing.
Nettle has also been used to make dyes. A decoction of the plant makes a beautiful green dye that is used in Russia to color wool. When boiled with alum, the roots produce a yellow dye that was also traditionally used to dye yarn.
As you can see, there are many, many reasons to love nettle. It is a nutritious, delicious green, a valuable medicine, and has even been utilized as a fiber and dye plant. Enjoy trying out some of these uses in your kitchen and medicine cabinet!
Have a favorite way to use nettle? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment below describing the ways you use this amazingly versatile plant.
Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. 2nd ed., Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2000.
Grieves, M. “Nettles.” A Modern Herbal. http://www.botanical.com
Kidd, Randy. Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Dog Care. Storey Publishing, 2000.
Kloss, Jethro. Back to Eden. Lotus Press, 2009.
Levy, Juliette de Baïracli. The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable. Fabre and Faber Inc., 1991.
mcdonald, jim. “Nettles, Oats, and You.”
Rose, Kiva. “Every (Wo)man’s Adaptogen: Nettle Seeds & the Adrenals.” http://www.bearmedicineherbals.com. July 22, 2007.
Weed, Susan. Wise Woman’s Herbal for the Childbearing Year. 1986.
Zak, Victoria. 20,000 Secrets of Tea. Dell Publishing, 1999.