What is stinging nettle?
Stinging nettle is an herb that is also called common nettle (scientific name: Urtica dioica). This weedy plant grows throughout the year and is known for its stinging leaves. Stinging nettle has toothed leaves present along the stem. The leaves and stem are covered with various stinging and non-stinging plant hair (trichomes). The plant can reach up to a height of 6.5 feet. It is found all over the world, although it is particularly common in Europe, parts of Asia, North America and North Africa.
Stinging nettle is commonly used in herbal medicine. The young leaves of the plant can be cooked, which makes them safe. These can be eaten as a nutritious culinary ingredient. Stinging nettle is also used in the cosmetic (anti-dandruff) and textile industries. The dried plant is often used for feeding livestock.
What does stinging nettle do to the body?
The leaves and stems of stinging nettle are covered with several trichomes or plant hairs. These trichomes have fleshy, round tips that break off when brushed against. This reveals tiny needle-like tubes that can pierce the skin. It leads to the release of several chemicals, such as acetylcholine, formic acid, serotonin and histamine, in the skin. These chemicals cause an itchy and burning rash on the body in both human beings and animals. The effect of the chemicals may last up to 12 hours. A massive accumulation of stings can seriously poison hunting dogs.
The plant, however, possesses many compounds that can decrease inflammation in the human body. It also increases the urine output. Hence, its preparations are used in herbal medicine for treating various health conditions.
What are the benefits of stinging nettle?
Stinging nettle has been a part of herbal medicine for a long time. It can be used as a paste for local application (after cooking) or as tea. You must consult your doctor if you wish to use this herb for any health condition. Some of the uses of stinging nettle include
- Osteoarthritis: It is a type of joint inflammation (arthritis) that results in the damage of the bone and cartilage. Stinging nettle preparations taken orally or applied on the skin over the affected joint have been shown to reduce the pain and swelling associated with osteoarthritis.
- Diabetes: A few studies suggest that consuming stinging nettle preparations can reduce the high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
- Hay fever: It is claimed that stinging nettle can provide relief from hay fever. It must be used when initial signs appear.
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): BPH is a condition in which there is a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland, which is present in males. Stinging nettle may improve the urine output in patients with BPH.
- Water retention: Stinging nettle may provide relief from water retention because it increases urine output.
Other claimed uses of stinging nettle include
- Gum inflammation (gingivitis)
- Hyperandrogenism (excess male hormone levels in women)
- Anemia (low levels of the red blood cell pigment, hemoglobin)
- Poor wound healing
Stinging nettle can cause side effects, such as skin irritation, sweating and stomach upset. It can cause increased uterine (womb) contractions and consequent miscarriage. Thus, it should be avoided in pregnant women. Older nettle leaves contain oxalate that may harm the kidneys. You must take your doctor’s opinion before using stinging nettle preparations in any form.
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