|| Urtica dioica/Urtica urens
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica and the closely related Urtica
urens) has a long medicinal history. In medieval Europe, diuretics and
remedies for joint problems were made from stinging nettle. Healers in several
traditions used the branches of stinging nettle to strike the arms or legs of
paralyzed patients in order to activate their muscles. This whipping technique
is also used in some healing traditions to stimulate the organs and relieve the
pain of sore muscles.
The stinging hairs on nettle are sharp polished spines that contain histamine
and formic acid, irritating chemicals that are released when the plant comes in
contact with the skin. While the hairs, or spines, of the stinging nettle are
normally very painful to the touch, when they come into contact with an area of
the body that is already in pain, the chemicals can actually decrease the
original pain. This is why stinging nettle is called a counterirritant. Applying
juice from the stinging nettle to the skin can actually relieve painful nettle
stings or insect bites.
Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat rheumatism
(disorders of the muscles and joints), eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia.
Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of
an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), for urinary
tract infections, for kidney stones, for hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or in
compresses or creams for treating joint pain, sprains and strains, tendonitis,
and insect bites. In fact, some small but well designed studies are beginning to
confirm that certain traditional uses have scientific validity, particularly
osteoarthritis especially when used in conjunction with anti-inflammatory
Possible Interactions), and BPH. Plus,
recent laboratory studies are offering plausible explanations for why stinging
nettles might help rheumatoid arthritis as well as several of the conditions
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
Reports claim that as many as 80% of European men with BPH are given the
option of herbal remedies for their symptoms, including saw palmetto and
stinging nettle roots, rather than medication or surgery. Studies in people
suggest that the root of the stinging nettle, in combination with other herbs
especially saw palmetto, may be an effective treatment for BPH, relieving
urinary symptoms such as reduced urinary flow, incomplete emptying of the
bladder, post urination dripping, and the constant urge to urinate. These
symptoms are due to the enlarged prostate gland pressing on the urethra (the
tube that empties urine from the bladder). Laboratory studies have shown
stinging nettle to be comparable to finasteride (a medication commonly
prescribed for BPH) in slowing the growth of certain prostate cells. However,
unlike finasteride, the herb does not decrease prostate size.
In animal studies, nettle has been shown to relieve pain, have mild
anti-inflammatory effects, and to lower blood sugar levels. Active compounds in
stinging nettle may act as an expectorant (meaning that it can loosen and break
up a cough) and have anti-viral properties.
Nettle may also be effective for treating certain individuals with allergic
rhinitis (hay fever). This traditional use has had a lot of historical value for
individuals. Early studies of people suggest that this historic use is likely
scientifically valid. However, while the studies thus far have been favorable,
they have not been overwhelmingly so. More research would be helpful. In the
meantime, talk to your doctor about whether it is safe for you to try nettle as
a possible alternative treatment during allergy season if you are prone to hay
Stinging nettle is the name given to common nettle, garden nettle, and
hybrids of these two plants. Originally from the colder regions of northern
Europe and Asia, today this herbaceous shrub grows all over the world. Stinging
nettle grows well in nitrogen-rich soil, blooms between June and September, and
reaches nearly 3 feet high.
The branching stems underground multiply by themselves and have multiple
shoots. The leaves are heart-shaped, finely toothed, and tapered at the ends.
The entire plant is covered with tiny stinging hairs, mostly on the underside of
the leaves and stem.
|What's It Made Of?|
Stinging nettle products are usually made from the roots and/or leaves. It is
thought that the flavonoids and potassium in nettle leaves are responsible for
their diuretic action. Root preparations are used to relieve some of the
symptoms of BPH.
Stinging nettle is available as dried leaf, as tea, and as root tincture (a
tincture is a solution of the herb in alcohol). Stinging nettle can also be
purchased in capsule form.
|How to Take It|
Although available in many combination formulas to treat colds, asthma, and
allergies in children, a specific safe and effective dose for this age range has
not yet been established. It is best to follow the instructions of a trained
herbalist when using stinging nettles in children.
- Tea: prepare a cup by pouring 2/3 cup of boiling water over 3 to 4 tsp
of dried leaves or dried root and steeping for 3 to 5 minutes. Drink three to
four of these cups a day. An infusion can also be made with fresh nettle leaves.
Always drink additional water along with the tea (at least 2 quarts per day).
- Dried leaf: 2 to 4 grams, three times a day
- Fluid extract (root,1:1): 1.5 mL, three to four times daily
- Fluid extract (leaf, 1:1): 2 to 5 mL three times daily
- Tincture (root, 1:5): 5 to 7.5 mL three to four times daily
- Creams: use as directed
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
Stinging nettle is generally considered safe when used as directed.
Occasional side effects include mild stomach upset, fluid retention, and hives
(mainly from topical use). It is important to exercise care when handling the
nettle plant as contact with skin can cause result in an allergic rash, such as
contact dermatitis or hives.
Because nettle can alter the menstrual cycle and may contribute to
miscarriage, pregnant women should not use nettle, and lactating women should
avoid excessive use of this herb.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
In a scientific
study of patients with acute arthritis, stewed stinging nettle leaves enhanced
the anti-inflammatory effect of diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
medication (NSAID). Although the combination of stinging nettle and NSAIDs may
be beneficial for the treatment of arthritic conditions, a knowledgeable
healthcare provider should be consulted before adding this herb to an existing
Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded
Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications;
Bone K, Mill S, eds. Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy, Modern
Herbal Medicine. London: Churchill Livingstone; 2000.
Bradley P, ed. British Herbal Compendium. Dorset, England: British
Herbal Medicine Association; 1992;1:166-167.
Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. 2nd ed.
Sandy, Ore: Eclectic Medical; 1998:125.
Chrubasik S, Enderlein W, Bauer R, Grabner W. Evidence for antirheumatic
effectiveness of Herba Urticae dioica in acute arthritis: A pilot study.
Ernst E, Chrubasik S. Phyto-anti-inflammatories. A
systematic review of randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trials.
Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2000;26(1):13-27.
Fischer C. Nettles-an aid to the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Eur
Herbal Med. 1997;3(2):34-35.
Gruenwald J, Brendler T; Christof J. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 2nd ed.
Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2000:729-733.
Klingelhoefer S, Obertreis B, Quast S, Behnke B. Antirheumatic effect of IDS
23, a stinging nettle leaf extract, on in vitro expression of T helper
cytokines. J Rheumatol. 1999;26(12):2517-2522.
Koch E. Extracts from fruits of saw palmetto (Sabal serrulata) and
roots of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica): viable alternatives in the
medical treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia and associated lower urinary
tracts symptoms. Planta Med. 2001;67(6):489-500.
Konrad L, Muller HH, Lenz C, Laubinger H, Aumuller G, Lichius JJ.
Antiproliferative effect on human prostate cancer cells by a stinging nettle
root (Urtica dioica) extract. Planta Med. 2000;66(1):44-7.
Krzeski T, Kazon M, Borkowski A, Witeska A, Kuczera J. Combined extracts of
Urtica dioica and Pygeum africanum in the treatment of benign
prostatic hyperplasia: double-blind comparison of two doses. Clin Ther.
Lichius JJ, Lenz C, Lindemann P, Muller HH, Aumuller G, Konrad L.
Antiproliferative effect of a polysaccharide fraction of a 20% methanolic
extract of stinging nettle roots upon epithelial cells of the human prostate
(LNCaP). Pharmazie. 1999;54(10):768-771.
Mittman P. Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica
dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Medica.
Newall C, Anderson L, Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for
Health-Care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press;
Oliver F, Amon E, Breathnach A, Francis D, Sarathchandra P, Black A, Greaves
M. Contact urticaria due to the common stinging nettle (Urtica
dioica—histological, ultrastructural and
pharmacological studies. Clin Exp Dermatology.
Pittler MH. Complementary therapies for treating benign prostatic
hyperplasia. FACT. 2000;5(4):255-257.
Pizzorno JE, Murray MT. Textbook of Natural Medicine. New York:
Churchill Livingstone; 1999:1150.
Randall C, Meethan K, Randall H, Dobbs F. Nettle sting of Urtica dioica for
joint pain - an exploratory study of this complementary
therapy. Complement Ther Med. 1999;7(3):126-131.
Randall C, Randall H, Dobbs F, Hutton C, Sanders H. Randomized controlled
trial of nettle sting for treatment of base-of-thumb pain. J R Soc Med.
Riehemann K, Behnke B, Schulze-Osthoff K. Plant extracts from stinging nettle
(Urtica dioica), an antirheumatic remedy, inhibit the proinflammatory
transcription factor NF-kappaB. FEBS Lett 1999;442(1):89-94.
Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of
Phytomedicinals. New York, NY: The Haworth Herbal Press; 1999:104-105.
Schottner M, Gansser D, Spiteller G. Lignans from the roots of Urtica
dioica and their metabolites bind to human sex hormone binding globulin
(SHBG). Planta Med. 1997;63(6):529-532.
Schulz V, Hänsel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide
to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag;
Schulze-Tanzil G, de SP, Behnke B, Klingelhoefer S, Scheid A, Shakibaei M.
Effects of the antirheumatic remedy hox alpha--a new stinging nettle leaf
extract--on matrix metalloproteinases in human chondrocytes in vitro. Histol
Wilt TJ, Ishani A, Rutks I, MacDonald R. Phytotherapy for benign prostatic
hyperplasia. Public Health Nutr. 2000;3(4A):459-472.
|Review Date: April 2002|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Constance Grauds, RPh (April
1999), President, Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists, San Rafael, CA;
Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley
Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine,
Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson
Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February
2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD,
Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary &
Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David
Winston, Herbalist (April 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ;
Tom Wolfe, P.AHG (April 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD. All
interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including
Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria,
VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T
Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor,
University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for
Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and
Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse
of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed