Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)

curated by Janet Lancaster

Recently, the San Diego Herb Guild held their annual Nettles Festival in the Trees for Health Garden in Balboa Park. Essentially, the powers that be over the park have agreed not to spray the nettles with RoundUp provided they are picked. Hence, the annual Nettles Festival. This year we had a great turn out and a beautiful morning to harvest.  In this post, we share some of the basic info about Urtica dioica so that you will know why so many herbalists include them in their kitchen apothecary.

Stinging Nettles are in the Urticales order, which is comprised of 6 families. Among them are:

·         Ulmaceae – there are 15 genera in this family. The genus Ulmus includes 45 species, including Ulmus rubra Muhl. – slippery elm.
·         Cannabaceae – only 2 genera in this family including Cannabis and Cannibas sativa L. is  marijuana.
·         Urticaceae - there are between 45 and 48 genera. Stinging nettles belongs to the genus Urtica and dioica is the species.


If you’ve ever handled stinging nettles without wearing gloves or otherwise came in contact with them, you’ve experienced urticaria. Urticaria is commonly known as hives, or a skin rash that causes a burning of stinging sensation.

Parts Used

Leaves, stems, flowers and roots.

Chemical and Nutrient Content

Nettle has both nutritive and medicinal value. It contains chlorphyll, iron, glucoquinine, indoles (including histamine and serotonin), acetylcholine (an organic chemical that serves as a neurotransmitter), antioxidants (kaempferol and quercetin), vitamin C and other vitamins, protein and dietary fiber.



Actions

Urtica dioica is astringent, tonic, diuretic and hypotensive.

What For

Nettle is one of the most practical herbs due to their ability to support and strengthen the entire body. Nettles are used as a detoxification remedy and spring tonic in Europe. It can be helpful both topically and internally for myalgia and osteoarthritis, two conditions that can be both painful and difficult to treat. Urtica dioica can also be helpful in dealing with gout.

Nettle is called for with all varieties of eczema, including childhood eczema and nervous eczema. It combines well with Figwort and Burdock to treat eczema. It can also help with similar types of skin conditions including psoriasis.

Interestingly, nettle contains both hyper- and hypoglycemic constituents. Nettle root has successfully treated early stages of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Men wanting to support prostate function, may want to consider using nettle root. Research has shown that nettle reduces the frequency of urination, improves the flow of urine and decreases the amount of residual urine. Studies have also found to reduce nocturia – being awakened at night due to the need to urinate. Along the same line, nettle can be used to treat symptoms of urinary tract infections.

Since nettle is astringent, it may be used for nose bleeds or to relieve symptoms associated with hemorrhage in the body, e.g. uterine hemorrhage.

Allergy sufferers may find relief from the symptoms of hay fever. Although nettle contains histamine, it has been found to reduce the body’s production of histamine.

As a tea, nettle can help resolve ulcers, hemorrhoids and intestinal inflammation.

Preparations

Nettle can be made into soup stock, tea, tincture, capsules and infusion. Nettle can also be added to juices and taken while fasting.

Contraindications

Remember that fresh nettle causes stinging or burning sensation when it comes in contact with tissue. Theoretically it may decrease the efficacy of anticoagulant drugs when taken internally. For this reason, check with your doctor before using nettle if taking a blood thinner or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, e.g. Advil.
 
Glucoquinine is believed to reduce blood sugar levels and may adversely interact with prescription drugs that reduce blood sugar levels. For this reason, those taking diabetes medications should always consult with their doctor before using nettles.

References


Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, David Hoffman, FNIMH, AHG, Healing Arts Press, 2003, Rochester, VT

Prescription for Nutritional Healing, A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements, James F. Blach, M.D., Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C, Avery Publishing Group, Inc., 1990, Garden City Park, NY


The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal, A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies, David Hoffman, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1996, New York, NY

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