Stinging nettle, (Urtica dioica), also called common nettle, weedy perennial plant of the nettle family (Urticaceae), known for its stinging leaves. Stinging nettle is distributed nearly worldwide but is especially common in Europe, North America, North Africa, and parts of Asia. The plant is common in herbal medicine, and young leaves can be cooked and eaten as a nutritious potherb. Additionally, stinging nettle has been used as a source of bast fibres for textiles and is sometimes used in cosmetics.
Stinging nettle is an herbaceous plant and often grows to about 2 meters (6.5 feet) in height. The plant can spread vegetatively with its yellow creeping rhizomes and often forms dense colonies. The toothed leaves are borne oppositely along the stem, and both the stems and leaves are covered with numerous stinging and non-stinging trichomes (plant hairs). The plants can be dioecious (an individual produces only female or male flowers) or monoecious (an individual bears both male and female flowers), depending on the subspecies. The tiny green or white flowers are borne in dense whorled clusters in the leaf axils and stem tips and are wind-pollinated. The fruits are small achenes, and the plants produce copious amounts of seeds.
The stinging trichomes of the leaves and stems have bulbous tips that break off when brushed against, revealing needle like tubes that pierce the skin. They inject a mix of acetylcholine, formic acid, histamine, and serotonin, causing an itchy, burning rash in humans and other animals that may last up to 12 hours. Hunting dogs running through stinging nettle thickets have been poisoned, sometimes lethally, by the massive accumulation of stings. This defense mechanism is an effective deterrent against most large herbivores, though the plant is important food for several butterfly species and aphids. The dried plant can be used as livestock feed, and heating or cooking the fresh leaves renders them safe for consumption. 00:00 02:38
Stinging nettle has a long history of use as a medicinal herb and is still used in folk medicine for a wide array of disorders, though there is limited clinical evidence supporting its efficacy. The root stock is used as a diuretic and as an herbal treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (prostate enlargement) and other urinary disorders. Tea made from the leaves has been used to treat hay fever, diabetes, gout, and arthritis, and fresh stinging leaves are sometimes applied to arthritic joints in a process known as urtification, which is said to stimulate blood flow. Topical creams have also been developed for joint pain and various skin ailments, including eczema and dandruff.
6 Evidence-Based Benefits of Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has been a staple in herbal medicine since ancient times.
Ancient Egyptians used stinging nettle to treat arthritis and lower back pain, while Roman troops rubbed it on themselves to help stay warm
Its scientific name, Urtica dioica, comes from the Latin word uro, which means “to burn,” because its leaves can cause a temporary burning sensation upon contact.
The leaves have hair-like structures that sting and also produce itching, redness and swelling (2Trusted Source).
However, once it is processed into a supplement, dried, freeze-dried or cooked, stinging nettle can be safely consumed. Studies link it to a number of potential health benefits.
1. Contains Many Nutrients
Stinging nettle’s leaves and root provide a wide variety of nutrients, including
What’s more, many of these nutrients act as antioxidants inside your body.
Antioxidants are molecules that help defend your cells against damage from free radicals. Damage caused by free radicals is linked to aging, as well as cancer and other harmful diseases (3Trusted Source).
Studies indicate that stinging nettle extract can raise blood antioxidant levels (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
2. May Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s way of healing itself and fighting infections.
However, chronic inflammation can inflict significant harm (6Trusted Source).
Stinging nettle harbors a variety of compounds that may reduce inflammation.
In animal and test-tube studies, stinging nettle reduced levels of multiple inflammatory hormones by interfering with their production (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
In human studies, applying a stinging nettle cream or consuming stinging nettle products appears to relieve inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
For instance, in one 27-person study, applying a stinging nettle cream onto arthritis-affected areas significantly reduced pain, compared to a placebo treatment (9Trusted Source).
In another study, taking a supplement that contained stinging nettle extract significantly reduced arthritis pain. Additionally, participants felt they could reduce their dose of anti-inflammatory pain relievers because of this capsule (10Trusted Source).
That said, research is insufficient to recommend stinging nettle as an anti-inflammatory treatment. More human studies are needed.
3. May Treat Enlarged Prostate Symptoms
Up to 50% of men aged 51 and older have an enlarged prostate gland (11Trusted Source).
An enlarged prostate is commonly called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Scientists aren’t sure what causes BPH, but it can lead to significant discomfort during urination.
Interestingly, a few studies suggest that stinging nettle may help treat BPH.
Animal research reveals that this powerful plant may prevent the conversion of testosterone into dihydro testosterone — a more powerful form of testosterone
Stopping this conversion can help reduce prostate size (13Trusted Source).
Studies in people with BPH demonstrate that stinging nettle extracts help treat short- and long-term urination problems — without side effects
However, it’s unclear how effective stinging nettle is compared to conventional treatments.
4. May Treat Hay Fever
Hay fever is an allergy that involves inflammation in the lining of your nose.
Stinging nettle is viewed as a promising natural treatment for hay fever.
Test-tube research shows that stinging nettle extracts can inhibit inflammation that can trigger seasonal allergies (16Trusted Source).
This includes blocking histamine receptors and stopping immune cells from releasing chemicals that trigger allergy symptoms (16Trusted Source).
However, human studies note that stinging nettle is equal to or only slightly better at treating hay fever than a placebo
While this plant may prove a promising natural remedy for hay fever symptoms, more long-term human studies are needed.
5. May Lower Blood Pressure
Approximately one in three American adults has high blood pressure
High blood pressure is a serious health concern because it puts you at risk of heart disease and strokes, which are among the leading causes of death worldwide
Stinging nettle was traditionally used to treat high blood pressure
Animal and test-tube studies illustrate that it may help lower blood pressure in several ways.
For one, it may stimulate nitric oxide production, which acts as a vasodilator. Validators relax the muscles of your blood vessels, helping them widen
In addition, stinging nettle has compounds that may act as calcium channel blockers, which relax your heart by reducing the force of contractions
In animal studies, stinging nettle has been shown to lower blood pressure levels while raising the heart’s antioxidant defenses
However, stinging nettle’s effects on blood pressure in humans are still unclear. Additional human studies are needed before recommendations can be made.
6. May Aid Blood Sugar Control
Both human and animal studies link stinging nettle to lower blood sugar levels
In fact, this plant contains compounds that may mimic the effects of insulin (31Trusted Source).
In a three-month study in 46 people, taking 500 mg of stinging nettle extract three times daily significantly lowered blood sugar levels compared to a placebo
Despite promising findings, there are still far too few human studies on stinging nettle and blood sugar control. More research is necessary.