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Table of Contents > Herbs > Stinging Nettle
Stinging Nettle
Botanical Name:  Urtica dioica/Urtica urens
Common Names:  Nettle
 
Overview
Plant Description
What's It Made Of?
Available Forms
How to Take It
Precautions
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research

Overview

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.

General Uses

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 medications (see 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 already mentioned.

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.

Other

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 fever.


Plant Description

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.


Available Forms

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

Pediatric

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.

Adult

  • 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

Precautions

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.


Possible Interactions

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 medication regimen.


Supporting Research

Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:367-375.

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. Phytomedicine. 1997;4:105-108.

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. 1993;15:1011-1020.

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. 1990;56:44-47.

Newall C, Anderson L, Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London, England: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:201-202.

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. 1991;267:1-7.

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. 2000;93(6):305-309.

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; 1998:228-229.

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 Histopathol 2002;17(2):477-485

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, HI.

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 herein.

 
RELATED INFORMATION
  Uses of this Herb
Allergic Rhinitis
Anemia
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
Cough
Eczema
Gout
Insect Bites and Stings
Kidney Stones
Osteoarthritis
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Sprains and Strains
Tendinitis
Urinary Tract Infection in Women
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Summary
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
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