Ingredients and Uses

Can Nettle Leaves Cure Allergies? How Are They Good For You?

Reviewed By Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Julie Freeman, MA, RDN, LDN, RYT
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Can Nettle Leaves Cure Allergies? How Are They Good For You? Hyderabd040-395603080 August 9, 2019

Has a riverside stroll or a short forest hike ever given rise to itchy or burning patches on your skin? I’m sure you must have had a few when you walked through that dense, fresh garden in your backyard. Most probably, these stings or burns are because of nettle leaves.

Nettles are weeds growing in moist and cool places – like forests and gardens and other abandoned sites. These little plants can also be good for your health. That’s why traditional herbal medicine used nettle leaves, roots, and the aerial parts to treat allergies, inflammation, and fertility issues.

Let’s learn a little more about nettles in this article.

What Is So Special About Nettles And Their Leaves?

Nettles (Urtica species) are special members of traditional medicine, food, and pharmaceutical sectors. All because of their exotic biochemical profile. They grow in mild to temperate climates across the world – especially in places with plenty of moisture. You can find certain species of nettles often in forests, by the rivers or streams, and on roadsides (1).

These plants (or weeds) are native to Mexico, Italy, Nepal, India, China, Russia, Netherlands, North America, and parts of Africa. Certain species of nettle, particularly the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), have hairs on their leaves and aerial parts. Some of these sting too! Hence, the name (1).

Another interesting member of this family is the burning nettle (Urtica urens) a.k.a. small nettle or dwarf nettle. It causes burning and blisters when it comes in contact with your skin. Burning nettle is commonly spotted near fence rows, roadsides, ditch banks, gardens, vegetable crops, sugar beets, and citrus and deciduous orchards (2).

When human skin comes into contact with a nettle leaf or stem, it rapidly develops reddish patches that itch and burn. The hairs or trichomes of the plant are naturally designed to protect the plant from insects. Self-defense, you see!

Do You Know How The Nettle Stings?

  • The prickly hairs of the nettle have a small tube-like structure. This has a hard round bulb at the tip and a softer vessel at the base.
  • The bulb ruptures when it comes in contact with skin and exposes a needle-like protrusion.
  • When this tip pierces the skin, it puts pressure on the soft, basal vessel.
  • This releases the irritating substances (viz., acetylcholine and histamine) deep into the skin.This forms the red, angry, itchy, and burning patches on exposed sites..

How in the world are these weeds good for your health?

Well, along with the sting and burn, these weeds also possess phytochemicals, fatty acids, essential amino acids, chlorophyll, vitamins, tannins, carbohydrates, sterols, polysaccharides, as well as minerals.

A cumulative effect of all these active components is what makes nettles so good. The following section is all about the benefits of nettle leaves. Start scrolling!

6 Benefits Of Nettle Leaves

1. Boost Hair Growth And Strength

Traditional medicine used Urtica species to stimulate hair growth. A study investigated this property of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) with a combination of herbal extracts. This herbal preparation increased the proliferation of human dermal papilla cells (3).

The β-sitosterol in stinging nettle triggers the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). It favors the synthesis of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and supports new hair growth (3).

The leaves and roots of nettles regulate the activity of the sex hormones and their substrates. They help control hair loss (alopecia) in men and women with hormonal imbalances (4).

2. Might Treat Hay Fever, Asthma, And Allergies

Might Treat Hay Fever, Asthma, And Allergies Pinit

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Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is caused by pollen, dust mites, mold, fungus spores, cockroaches, and feathers. Other causes include food sensitivity, metabolic diseases, and certain drugs. Its symptoms include sneezing, nasal congestion, itching, lacrimation (constant tearing), headache, dry mouth, drowsiness, fatigue, and cardiac arrhythmia (5).

This is where alternative medicine (might) comes to the rescue (5), (6).

Nettle (Urtica dioica) has nicotinamide, synephrine, and osthole, with potent anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties. These phytochemicals block the pro-inflammatory histamine receptors, blocking its production and release (5).

They also interfere with the activity of pro-inflammatory cells, chemical messengers, and the controlling genes (5).

Health practitioners should look into the use of alternative medicine to treat acute and chronic disorders like asthma, respiratory tract allergies, etc. as an alternative to common medications being used (6).

3. Manage Prostate Issues

Overgrowth of the prostate gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia) increases the pressure on the urethra. This disables the urinary system and causes several chronic disturbances with aging (7).

In rat studies, stinging nettle showed improvement in prostate issues. Nettle root extracts inhibit aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. Estrogen is closely linked to prostate disorders (7).

Other studies demonstrate the antiproliferative properties of nettle root on human cancer cells. A 20% alcoholic extract of stinging nettle root reduced the growth of cancerous prostatic epithelial cells over a seven-day course (8).

4. Monitor Heart And Liver Health

In a 2018 rat study, administration of 150 mg/kg/day stinging nettle extract for a month improved the blood lipid profile. The nettle extract worked far better than its commercial synthetic drug counterpart (9).

Nettle extract boosts the antioxidant machinery in the body, thereby preventing (and even ending) lipid peroxidation. With a balanced lipid profile and healthy liver, there is a reduced risk of hypercholesterolemia-induced diseases (10).

Hypercholesterolemia is linked to atherosclerosis and other inflammatory diseases. Nettle leaf helps prevent atherosclerosis and hypertension, as per the rat studies. It is, hence, a potent hepato- and cardioprotective dietary additive (11).

5. Address Menstrual Health, PCOS, And Fertility Concerns

Addresses Menstrual Health, PCOS, And Fertility Concerns Pinit

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Around 10%-15% of women of reproductive age face oligomenorrhea, and 3%-4% of them have amenorrhea.

Oligomenorrhea and amenorrhea are changes in regular menstrual cycles that cause long menstrual cycles and absence of menstruation, respectively. While hormone replacement therapy is the most common remedy, herbal medicine is proving to be effective in such cases (12).

Herbal extracts of nettle, peppermint, onion, and nigella have a positive effect on polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). They can control menstrual bleeding, ameliorate menstrual irregularities, balance hyperandrogenism, and promote fertility (12).

These herbs possess phytochemicals, including flavonoids, phenols, phytosterols, and terpenoids, that can mimic the natural hormonal function and restrict bleeding. That is why nettle plant parts can enhance follicle maturation, reduce coagulation factors, relax uterine muscles, and facilitate uterine recovery (12), (13).

6. Accelerate Wound Healing

Wound healing could get prolonged in the presence of free radicals and several physiological stresses. The delay might affect one or all steps of wound contraction, recovery of epidermal cells (reepithelialization), and restoration of blood supply (neovascularization) (13).

Using plant medicine for healing wounds is an ancient remedy. Several flowering plants like stinging nettle have been lauded for their vulnerary and antioxidant properties.

The nettle leaf has an antihemorrhagic effect because of its flavonoids, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acid content (13).

Using nettle extract on wounds would reduce the bleeding time and promote blood clotting. It also eliminates pathogens, traps the pro-inflammatory free radicals, and reduces the average healing time in rat models (13).

Also, nettle leaf, along with other medicinal herbs, is used to manage second-degree burn wounds (14).

In short, the leaf, root, and other parts of stinging nettle have powerful antioxidant, vulnerary, antihemorrhagic, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherosclerotic, anti-hypercholesterolemic, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, anti-allergic, and anti-diuretic properties.

Shouldn’t there be something in the nettle plant parts that give(s) these properties?

Absolutely! Learn more about them in the following section.

What Are The Active Components Of The Nettle Plant?

The nettle plant has a load of phytochemicals. Fresh leaves contain β-carotene, violaxanthin, xanthophylls, zeaxanthin, luteoxanthin, and lutein epoxide that impart those mind-blowing benefits to this herb (1).

Nettle also has phenolic acids, including carbonic, caffeic, caffeoyl malic, chlorogenic, formic, silicic, citric, fumaric, glyceric, malic, ellagic, oxalic, phosphoric, and succinic acids (15).

Quercetin, myricetin, isorhamnetin, kaempferol, etc. are the flavonoids. Acetylcholine, betaine, choline, lecithin, histamine, scololeptin, rutin, rosinidin, naringin, are few other phytochemicals present in the nettle leaf, root, and stalk (15).

This medicinal herb scores well in nutrition too. The leaves have copious amounts of potassium, calcium, folate, vitamins A and K, simple carbohydrates, protein, and essential precursors. Have a look.

Nutritional Profile Of Nettles

Nutritional value Of Nettle Leaves
NutrientUnitServing size (1 cup 89 g)
Waterg78.03
Energykcal37
EnergykJ156
Proteing2.41
Total lipid (fat)g0.10
Ashg1.81
Carbohydrate, by differenceg6.67
Fiber, total dietaryg6.1
Sugars, totalg0.22
Minerals
Calcium, Camg428
Iron, Femg1.46
Magnesium, Mgmg51
Phosphorus, Pmg63
Potassium, Kmg297
Sodium, Namg4
Zinc, Znmg0.30
Copper, Cumg0.068
Manganese, Mnmg0.693
Selenium, Seµg0.3
Vitamins
Thiaminmg0.007
Riboflavinmg0.142
Niacinmg0.345
Vitamin B-6mg0.092
Folate, totalµg12
Folate, foodµg12
Folate, DFEµg12
Choline, totalmg15.5
Betainemg19.0
Vitamin A, RAEmg90
Carotene, betaµg1024
Carotene, alphaµg101
Vitamin A, IUIU1790
Lutein + zeaxanthinIU3718
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)IU443.8

Source: USDA

Blanched nettles aren’t a bad addition to your salad!

Following what Hippocrates said to a T, let food be our medicine and medicine be our food. Let’s try to toss a few nettle leaves into our salad.

If that doesn’t sound good to you, we can brew a cup of fresh tea with nettle.

Let’s check out the recipe. Scroll down!

How To Make Nettle Leaf Tea

How To Make Nettle Leaf Tea Pinit

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What You Need
  • Fresh or dried nettle leaves – 1 loose cup (about 250ml)
  • Water – 1-2 cups
  • Boiling pot or kettle
Let’s Make It!
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a kettle or pot.
  2. Add the nettle leaves to the boiling water.
  3. Turn off the heat. Let it steep for about 5-10 minutes.
  4. Strain the contents into the cup(s).
  5. You can add honey or stevia to this tea. However, refrain from adding sugar or sweetener if possible.
  6. Serve hot or warm!

You might find it tasting bitter and woody initially. A few cups or days down, you will come to love its freshness.

Alternatively, blanch the nettle greens in salt water and use them in salads or pesto. You could also sauté the greens in oil, butter, or other cooking fat. This can be enjoyed with red or white meat and added to salads.

How To Clean Nettles Before Cooking

  • When you get fresh produce of nettle greens, start by wearing gloves and separating the spoilt or wilted ones.Separate leaves from the stalks.
  • Transfer the leaves to a sink or bowl of warm water.
  • Let them sit for about 10-15 minutes. You can see the color of the water change to orange-red. It’s normal
  • don’t worry. – Collect the leaves from the water bath. Make sure to lose the dirt and grit. You can directly blanch the leaves at this stage.
  • Dry them on paper towels if you want to use them later.
  • Store them carefully in a clean, dry, airy bag for refrigeration.

Ingesting nettle greens is a popular and more effective way of obtaining their benefits. But, they are wild plants and called ‘stinging’ nettles. Should you be concerned?

Absolutely! Check out the adverse effects of using nettle leaves.

Do Nettle Leaves Have Adverse Effects On Your Health?

Well, contrary to their wildness, nettles are considered safe. There are very few side effects of having them, but none are lethal or toxic (16).

Researchers found that nettle roots might cause GI tract disturbances, profuse sweating, and allergies in some individuals. Freshly-plucked nettle leaves might cause localized stinging, rash, itching, and tongue edema (16).

But, because they act as an emmenagogue, they might possess uterine-stimulant properties. If pregnant women take nettles without medical supervision, they could go into premature labor.

Also, using herbal medicines like nettle leaves with anti-inflammatory drugs is not advisable. They might interact with synthetic drugs. Unless your doctor suggests you to do so, do not take these leaves when you are on painkillers or similar medications.

What’s The Verdict?

Nettle leaves make an excellent home remedy – if cleaned and used the right way. Nettle leaves and other parts are used for centuries, both as a dye (to weave cloth) and as a therapeutic aid.

The leaves have big amounts of flavonoids, polysaccharides, vitamins, and hormonal precursors. In fact, stinging nettle is considered the only plant that contains choline acetyl-transferase – an acetylcholine-synthesizing enzyme.

So, harvest a good bunch of nettle greens. Wash them thoroughly and use them in your cooking. Make the tea, pesto, or nettle greens salad. Tell us how the recipes turned out. Write your comments, feedback, and suggestions in the box below.

References

  1. Urtica spp.: Ordinary Plants with Extraordinary Properties” Molecules, US National Library of Medicine.
  2. Burning & Stinging Nettles” How To Manage Pests, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
  3. Proprietary Herbal Extract Downregulates the Gene Expression…” Medical Archives, Journal of the Academy of Medical Sciences, US National Library of Medicine.
  4. Alopecia: Switch to Herbal Medicine” Journal Of Pharmaceutical Research And Opinion.
  5. Efficacy of Supportive Therapy of Allergic Rhinitis…” Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, US National Library of Medicine.
  6. Complementary and alternative interventions in asthma…” Annals of allergy, asthma & immunology, US National Library of Medicine.
  7. The histological and histometrical effects of Urtica dioica…” Veterinary Research Forum, US National Library of Medicine.
  8. Antiproliferative effect on human prostate cancer…” Planta medica, US National Library of Medicine.
  9. Protective effect of Urtica dioica leaf hydro…” Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, US National Library of Medicine.
  10. Immunohistopathological and Biochemical Study of…” West Indian Medical Journal, The University of the West Indies.
  11. Urtica dioica L. leaf extract modulates blood pressure…” Phytomedicine, National Agricultural Library, USDA.
  12. Herbal Medicine for Oligomenorrhea and Amenorrhea…” BioMed Research International, US National Library of Medicine.
  13. Exploring the Urtica dioica Leaves Hemostatic…” BioMed Research International, US National Library of Medicine.
  14. The Healing Effect of Nettle Extract on…” World Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
  15. Phenolic Compounds Analysis of Root, Stalk, and…” The Scientific World Journal, US National Library of Medicine.
  16. Risks and Benefits of Commonly used Herbal Medicines…” Author manuscript, HHS Public Access, US

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