Nettle, Urtica dioica
Nettle is probably one of the most known plants in western herbalism. Nettle has so many amazing properties that extend to almost everyone because it treads the line between herb and food. We want to talk about Nettle today because it's so common we sometimes overlook just how powerful it is.
Common Name: Nettle, Stinging Nettle
Latin Name: Urtica dioica, Urtica urens
Parts Used: Leaves, young leaves in early spring, seeds-late summer, Roots in early fall. (Most things in this article pertain to the leaves unless otherwise noted.)
Dating back to Hippocrates Nettle has been recorded as a powerful nutritional tonic, it has been used to slow bleeding, build milk supply, and has been used as a nourishing food source in many recipes. Nettle is well respected as an everyday herb.
Nettle is strong, its fibers have been used by Native Americans to weave fishing nets. In Denmark, they found burial shrouds made from the fibers of nettle that date 5,000 years back. In World War I, overalls worn by the Germans were made of Nettle fibers.
Taste can tell us a lot about an herb. Nettle has 2 primary tastes sweet & dry.
Sweet indicates that it is nourishing its much more subtle in nettle but sweet herbs are often used in weakened systems and can strengthen constitutions.
The Salty indicates that it is high in mineral content. (Don't think salty like table salt but rather more like kale or celery) which it does. Salty herbs tend to act upon the kidneys and urinary tract.
Actions and Affinities
One of the primary actions of Nettle is that it is a Diuretic, Nettle grows in a moist area, and its element is water, so it makes sense that this herb would help move the waters of the body specifically the kidneys, and urinary tract. But it doesn't stop there it works systemically to pull moisture from all tissues and swellings as well as draining moisture from the body. The interesting thing about herbal diuretics is that they are high in potassium so they do not deplete your body by increasing urination. This is not true for the 'water pill' that is often given to decrease water retention.
Because of this diuretic action, nettle has an affinity for being used in the kidney and urinary tract. The seeds of nettle are known to be restorative for the kidneys, often used when there are major problems.
Nutritive: Nettle is highly nutritious it is full of vitamins and minerals such as iron protein, vitamin C, fiber, potassium, silica, calcium, and chlorophyll just to name a few. Because it is so nutritious it makes it an amazing herb for people who are overfed and undernourished, or for those that are weak, thin, pale, and lacking vitality. It is also used often in pregnancy when extra nutrition is required.
One of the most overlooked properties of nettle is its affinity to the connective tissue and muscles. The combination of all these vitamins and minerals helps rebuild and replenish tissues, joints, organs, and muscles that have become weak, lax, or atrophied. When we say muscle that can mean the skeletal system or smooth muscle such as the peristaltic muscle, even the lining of the blood vessels and organs.
It is also commonly used in anemia because of the high iron content and because of its action on the liver. It helps build the blood, which in turn can help with blood, pressure, dizziness when standing, low energy, and brain fog.
Astringent: Nettle leaves are known to be quite toning for many areas of the body. It can bring extra tone to the gut lining, and intestines. It is also used in tightening and toning the uterus for uterine bleeding, post-birth abnormal cycles, or prolapse which is another reason we see it so often in female formulas.
This action is also what makes it known to treat internal bleeding or hemorrhaging successfully in various parts of the body. In this instance, it would pair well with a cayenne or shepherd's purse depending on where the bleeding is occurring.
The astringency can help in the male reproductive system, here the root is used to help with the swelling of the prostate which can affect the urethra and cause dribbling. The root also has phenolic acids that have an effect on hormones especially steroid and androgen hormones such as testosterone. This is why it helps BPH and inhibits DHT.
Rubefacient: This action just means it is a topical irritant. This is not an action to be overlooked. Nettle flogging is real and it can help increase blood flow to the area and oxygen with it that can help alleviate pain in stiff tight muscles or arthritic joints.
The best thing is if this sting is not something you can handle the plant offers some relief to its own sting, simply apply some nettle juice to the sting.
Inflammation: The cooling effect of nettle can help us reduce heat and excess inflammation in the body. Here we can see that nettle is a good herb for arthritis because it reduces swelling, lowers excess heat in the body and it also plays a role in dissolving protein waste products and urates. Both of which are culprits for arthritis and gout. It has been said that nettles can leech uric acid from the system and bring it to the bloodstream and excreted through the kidneys.
Alterative: Alterative indicates that the herb is changing or altering the state of our body. Nettle is an alterative due to its mild detoxifying effects, it helps open our channels of elimination and remove waste and clear stagnation. This waste is often part of the root cause, Dr. C said we cannot have dis-ease if the blood is clean. Nettle has a blood building property as well as a blood cleansing property. (Because of its diuretic effects it is purging fluid from the system and because of the nutrition it is feeding the blood)
Many of these actions indicate that it would be a helpful tonic for the cardiovascular system. By cleansing the toxins, and building it up with minerals and flavonoids which are also known to strengthen capillaries, by bringing more tone to these tissues it can help increase circulation and lower blood pressure.
This action can also help the liver with its detoxification process.
Seasonal Allergies: nettles contain quercetin which is like a natural anti-histamine it reduces inflammation in the sinuses and helps dry them up. It also helps using the actions we spoke of before the diuretic action can help move excess mucous, and the astringent effect can help tighten and tone the mucosal membranes. Nettle also aids in protein metabolism in the liver.
Contraindications: Nettle is a pretty safe herb but there are some cautions to talk about. It should not be taken at the same time as pharmaceutical 'water pills' as they have the same action and could overdo it.
Some herbalists say there is a danger in taking it when kidney stones are present, this is because of the silicic acid. This is the highest in older leaves and not as prominent in young leaves.
Emotionally: Matthew Wood says Nettle is great for the person who has a lack of concentration, mental dullness is tired often, and likely grunts each time they stand. Nettle also is likely a good herb for those who have a hot short temper. Nettle can be seen as a dual-action or amphoteric herb where it can help cool and calm in some instances and also stimulate the body and mind into activity.
Because it is ruled by Mars, which is attributed to the masculine warrior energy I believe we can learn from nettle and draw courage from its energy.
Garden uses: I love love to use nettles in my garden, if you have some of those older leaves put them into a 5-gallon bucket and allow them to soak for days, when you have a dark green stinky sludge dump it into your compost or water your plants with it. This will be a super nitrogen-rich food your plants will love.
I hope you learn how fun nettle is to use, but don't take my word for it get out and play in the nettles!