As seen in: Issue 26

Medicinal Weeds: Stinging Nettle

Perhaps you don’t know its name, but you certainly remember its sting. Even the slightest interaction with this tall weed can cause sharp pains and a burning tingle.

Why people hate it

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has an impressive defense system. The stems, leaves, and flowers are covered with tiny hairs called spicules. These spicules, made from minuscule silica needles, are similar to sharp glass; they puncture the skin and cause painful irritation. Like a weapon used in chemical warfare, they inject tiny amounts of a cocktail made of acetylcholine, histamine, and 5-hydroxytryptamine, the same components that cause allergic reactions. Within seconds, the skin turns red, begins to burn, and little white bumps appear, making us feel miserable. Even if the rash isn’t dangerous and doesn’t last very long, it’s enough to make any gardener turn their back on a truly marvelous plant.

Appearances can be deceiving

Once we overcome the fear of being stung, stinging nettle is a fantastic weed. This common plant has been a close friend to humans, used in many different ways for centuries. From the roots, leaves, and stalks, to the flowers and seeds, every single part of the plant has a purpose. 

Durable and resistant, the fibers of the mature plant stalks are used for textiles, ropes, and fishing nets. They can also be turned into paper or used to produce natural dyes in tones of yellow, green, or dark grey-green. Stinging nettle is also no stranger to the world of cosmetics. Urtica dioica extracts are commonly found in soaps, skin lotions, and shampoos that provide strengthening and nourishing properties. 

Good for the body

Stinging nettle’s health benefits are plentiful, and this prickly weed can practically cure all that ills! The vibrant, dark emerald green hue of the nettle plant signals that it is rich in chlorophyll, and therefore, the plant is excellent for the body’s integumentary system (skin, nails, and hair), as well as the cardiovascular, urinary, lymph, and respiratory systems. It supports and rejuvenates our bodies from head to toe. 

It is important to note that while nettle is generally considered a safe herb to use, for a few people, it can trigger some side effects or interfere with other herbs, supplements, or medications being used. Always consult a health care provider before including it in your daily herb regiment. 

A Nourishing Medicine

Armed with long sleeves, pants, and a pair of work gloves, gather the top eight to ten inches of the nettle plant in the early spring when it is still young and has not yet gone into flower. Once the leaves are cooked, dried, or blanched, they lose their stinging capabilities, and the plant is ready to spread its wealth! 

Nettle is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as B1, B2, B3, B5, and K. It is also rich in protein, calcium, and converts into iron, folate, potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, and zinc. Gentle and nourishing, stinging nettle is excellent to take as a daily infusion, as it contains many nutrients missing in modern day food crops. 

How to use it

An infusion is a strong tea that steeps for a long time — anywhere between four to eight hours. The dark green brew will have an intense, earthy taste and smell, and it won’t be long before your body ends up craving it. To make it, just put 1 oz. of dried nettle leaves in one liter (1 quart) Mason jar. Add hot water all the way to the top. Refrain from using boiling water, as it will kill some of the plant’s beneficial properties. Close the cap tight and let it steep for four to eight hours, or even overnight. After straining and discarding the plant matter, enjoy one or two cups during the day. Store any leftovers in the fridge, but be sure to throw it out after 36 hours.

Follow these directives every day for six to eight weeks, and the entire body can benefit from this dark green concoction. It is an all natural tool to help recover strength, either following a long-term illness or from pure exhaustion. Its high iron content can help people struggling with anemia, and the various rich and concentrated minerals help fortify bones and replenish mineral reserves.

Nettle is also a gentle diuretic and helps cleanse the body of toxins. It has been proven to effectively treat gout, as it removes and evacuates uric acid deposits, and can treat urinary tract infections and prevent painful kidney stones.

It is instinctive for many gardeners to label weeds as undesirable, but having an open mind unlocks enormous potential and many benefits. If you can look past its barbed exterior, stinging nettle is not an intruder, but rather, a weed we are lucky to have amongst us. The same is true for many so-called weeds which are, in reality, precious gems that have so much to share. 

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A therapist and healer for over 15 years, Caroline’s passion for medicinal plants only began after leaving the city for the quiet country life in Quebec, Canada. Eager to learn, she’s never looked back, using forests and wildflower fields as her classroom ever since. In a time where reconnecting with plants and nature is badly needed, she spreads her love for herbalism by holding teaching workshops about the powers of medicinal herbs and natural remedies.