Urtica urens – Stinging Nettle
Stinging Nettle – Urtica urens & gracilis
Urtica = ur-tik-a, L. “sting” (the Latin name);
urens = L. “stinging, burning”;
gracilis = “slender, graceful”;
Identification: Stinging nettle is an erect annual herb, 20-40 cm high, with stinging hairs on the stems and leaves. The flowers are green-white and droop in clusters from the stalk. The leaves are opposite, ovate to broadly elliptical, 3 to 5 nerved and toothed.
Distribution & Habitat: Urtica urens is an introduced weed that is widely distributed throughout the region.
Preparation & Uses: The first thing that must be considered with nettles are their stinging effect. The little hairs or bristles covering some plants are hollow, and act as “hypodermic needles“ that contain formic acid (others feel it is a histamine compound). The penetration of these bristles can be prevented by wearing leather gloves or by carefully picking the stalks with your thumb and two fingers, turning the hairs aside. Other plants can be used to protect the hands while picking nettles. Fortunately, the stinging effect is not usually bad. Surprisingly, the antidote for the sting is also found in nettles. Use nettles as a tea wash or dock (Rumex spp.) or mullein. The stinging effect is completely destroyed by cooking.
Nettle is popular all over the world as a pot herb. The best parts of the plant are the tender shoots or pink underground stem parts. Nettle is a little bland-tasting, so mix it with other foods or seasonings, such as vinegar and butter. The roots of nettles are good roasted. Nettles are high in vitamins A, C and D (a rare vitamin in plants). It also contains iron, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, silica and albuminoids.
A good wine or beer can reportedly be made from nettles with the addition of dandelion flowers, lemon juice, ginger root, brown sugar and yeast.
Medicinally, nettles are listed as diuretic, astringent, tonic, pectoral antispasmodic (specific for the respiratory system), galactagogue and hemostatic. Boiling water is a solvent. The most important herbal application for nettle is to stop internal bleeding. It is probably the best known treatment for treating someone spitting up blood due to hemorrhage of the lungs and stomach and blood passing from the urinary organs. Some people report that the decoction is good, while others say that the fresh juice squeezed from the leaves is better. The dose is one tablespoon of the juice every hour.
The decoction of root and/or leaves will expel phlegm from the lungs and stomach, it is also valuable in treating diarrhea, dysentery, piles, neuralgia, gravel and inflammation of the kidneys. As a diuretic it should not be used for extended periods of time as it can irritate the kidney. This is particularly true of older leaves that contain cystoliths that irritate the kidney.
A spring tonic made from nettle tea was often employed by settlers. The decoction can be used for treating excess menstrual flow. The fresh juice of the plant is reported to promote the flow of milk in nursing mothers. The seeds have been used to treat coughs and shortness of breath. In a freeze-dried form, I often use nettle to help people prevent food sensitivities. It is known to bind up Immunoglobulin G, responsible for many food sensitivities.
Externally, the pounded root and/or bruised leaves of nettle are excellent in stopping bleeding. The fresh leaves should not be left on too long as they will cause blistering. A decoction is often used to treat rheumatic pain and stiff joints.
The Indians were reported to use stinging nettles as a counter-irritant for pain associated with rheumatic problems. They would strike the painful area with nettles, and after a short period the stinging would stop and the rheumatic pain would disappear. The fumes from stinging nettle were inhaled in the sweat lodges of the Nevada Indians to treat flu and pneumonia. Washington state s Salish Indians used nettles to relax a woman s muscles during childbirth. Nettle tea was most often used but sometimes the tips of young plants were chewed during childbirth.
The decoction is usually taken in 2-4 fl. oz. doses.
The old stalks (which have no sting left) are quite strong and can be woven into a twine and have even been made into fine cloth.