Natural Healing

Stinging nettle – the anti-inflammatory powerhouse  

By Natasha Haesen, RHN

Stinging nettle, known as Utrica Dioica in Latin, is a perennial flowering plant used for medicinal purposes dating back to ancient Greece. It is found in temperate climates around the world. It can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall and has lance-shaped leaves and green flowers with yellow stamens. Stinging nettle derived its name because if your skin encounters the fine hairs on its leaves and stems (also known as trichomes), you may develop a burning pain that lasts for hours. However, when processed and used medicinally, stinging nettle has a number of health benefits. The fresh and dried leaves and the roots are all used in herbal medicine but have very different uses. Typically, the above parts of the plants are used to treat allergies, breathing issues, and arthritis, whereas the root is more useful in treating edema, rheumatism, gout, and prostatitis. Its primary medicinal properties stem from its anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties.

When used to treat allergies such as hay fever, low-dose stinging nettle extract increases the production of T cells. T cells are immune cells that act as a controlling mechanism over other immune cells that cause allergic reactions. Specifically, the extract of stinging nettle increases the production of interleukin-2 (IL-2), which increases the production of new T cells and sensitizes existing T cells to respond to IL-2. A clinical study at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, found that stinging nettle extract was more effective than placebo in treating allergic rhinitis. It is the anti-inflammatory properties that make stinging nettle so effective as a treatment for allergies. Even when taken before a meal, the leaf has been used for people with certain food sensitivities, but it is always advised to consult with your healthcare provider first if you have specifically known food allergies.

In addition to treating allergies, this phenomenal medicinal plant is also known to help ease arthritic pain. Clinical studies show that when using a leaf extract for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, patients have less resting pain and less pain when moving and overall better symptom scores. The extract can be used alongside nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or on its own.  Stinging nettle’s diuretic properties are what give it the ability to help with edema, a condition of swelling caused by too much fluid trapped in the body’s tissues, and gout, which is considered a particularly painful type of arthritis that is characterized by too much uric acid in the joints. Gout flares can cause exorbitant amounts of pain that can last up to a week or two at a time.

Although there are many ailments and benefits to using stinging nettle, not all claims have been backed and supported with peered reviewed research. One more ailment that does have research behind it is in the treatment of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), a common condition of the enlargement of the prostate experienced commonly in older men. Stinging nettle has been found to reduce the rate of cell division in the prostate gland. Compounds from the plant bind to receptor sites on the prostate gland that would otherwise receive growth hormones such as sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). These compounds also interfere with enzymes that are necessary for prostate cell growth. With less growth of the prostate, there is less pressure on the urethra and therefore an easier flow of urine. One particular clinical study showed more than 80 percent of men experienced an improvement in the symptoms of the lower urinary tract using stinging nettle.

With so many beneficial properties and the ability to reduce inflammation, stinging nettle truly is a powerhouse herb. It is available in capsules, juices, teas, and tinctures. In rare cases, some people may experience allergic reactions and should not use stinging nettle further. It should not be used by those with edema that is specifically caused by congestive heart failure or kidney disease. Men with urinary problems should first seek to rule out any other more serious conditions with a health care provider before using stinging nettle. Contraindications include those who may be on medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, as well as sedative medications. There is also insufficient research regarding its use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, so it is best to steer clear during that time. Lastly, the plant should not be used in raw form, so if you are harvesting it and making medicines, keep in mind that it needs to be cooked or else instances of poisoning may occur. All in all, stinging nettle is considered a safe and effective herbal treatment for many ailments and is an asset to any herbal cupboard.

One of the greatest things about herbal medicines is that they can be self-harvested and processed for personal use. It is important to remember that stinging nettle gets its name quite honestly, so when harvesting wear long pants, sleeves, and gloves. Some herbalists have been able to avoid the sting of nettle with careful harvesting techniques, but I believe that it is best to be safe. Nettle can be harvested from the earliest moment they begin to pop up from the ground (usually in early spring) all the way up until the fall. Once the rot of fall sets in is time to stop harvesting. When harvesting any wild medicine remembering to honour the plant and its habitat is of the utmost importance as its continued growth in the environment should not be disrupted.

From stinging nettle, you can take the leaves, stems, and roots. It is recommended to blanch the plant material before using it if it is to be used fresh, or you can dry the plant to material for use in tea. Nettle, once blanched (this can be done either in boiling water or an ice bath) is safe to consume just as is. If you wish to make nettle tea, you can let the material dry out, but do not let it dry so much that it turns brown. Drying can be done in a paper bag, a dehydrator, or by hanging the material in a dry place. Once nettle is dried it still may have stinging properties when handled however it is much less likely than when handling the raw plant. Regardless of whether you are consuming the plant as is, or making a tea, or even a tincture stinging nettle’s healing properties the health benefits of this amazing plant should not be overlooked.

I would like to give special thanks to Phyllis A. Balch, CNC for providing much of the background material that was collected for this article.

Natasha Haesen is a practicing Registered Holistic Nutritionist who lives in Beaverton, Ontario. She specializes

in gut wellness, detoxification and digestive education. She also develops all-natural products and sells them at

various healing Fairs and markets throughout Ontario. You can find her at www.lifeforcenutritioncanada.com

Photo credit: © Jirkaejc via Canva.com

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