Stinging Nettle: Health Benefits, Side Effects, And How To Make

Reviewed By Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Julie Freeman, MA, RDN, LDN, RYT
by Sindhu Koganti

Nettles (also known as stinging nettles) are a staple in traditional herbal medicine and are mainly used to treat allergies, inflammation, and fertility issues. Ancient Egyptians reportedly used this ubiquitous herb to treat arthritis and lower back pain (1). It has been used for ages for its healing properties.

Drinking stinging nettle tea may help in dealing with many ailments. This herbal tea possesses numerous health benefits, such as promoting hair growth, reducing allergies and asthma, aiding blood sugar management, and boosting urinary tract health.

Let’s learn a little more about stinging nettle benefits in this article. 

What Is Stinging Nettle?

The stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has been a staple herbal medicine since ancient times (2). It has an exotic biochemical profile. It grows 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.

Its scientific name Urtica dioica comes from the Latin word uro, which means “to burn,” because its leaves can cause a temporary burning sensation upon contact. 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, have hairs on their leaves and aerial parts. Some of these sting too! Hence, the name (1).

The leaves are densely covered with stinging hairs, which release potentially pain‐inducing toxins (1).

When human skin comes in 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.

However, consuming this magical herb after processing is safe. The following section is all about the benefits of stinging nettle leaves. Start scrolling! 

What Are The Health Benefits Of Stinging Nettle?

1. May 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 encourages the synthesis of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and supports new hair growth (3).

The leaves and roots of stinging 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. May Treat Hay Fever, Asthma, And Allergies

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 may come to the rescue (5), (6). Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) contains nicotinamide, synephrine, and osthole, with potent anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.

These phytochemicals exhibit an antagonist activity against the pro-inflammatory histamine receptors, blocking the production and release of histamine (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 (6).

3. May Help 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 in 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. May Reduce Inflammation

Stinging nettle extract contains an anti-inflammatory substance that can suppress several cytokines in inflammatory joint diseases (9).

According to another study, applying stinging nettle leaf appears to relieve osteoarthritic pain (10). Stinging nettle reduced levels of multiple inflammatory hormones by interfering with their production (11).

However, more research and human studies are required to recommend nettle as an anti-inflammatory treatment.

5. May Lower Blood Pressure

Stinging nettle was traditionally used to treat high blood pressure (12). Stinging nettle extract was found to possess antihypertensive effects.

It may help lower blood pressure by allowing blood vessels to relax and reducing the force of the heart’s contractions. More human studies are needed to confirm these effects. 

6. May Aid Blood Sugar Control

Nettle has shown some promising effects on blood glucose levels. Traditional medicine uses nettle leaves to treat diabetes mellitus due to their anti-hyperglycemic properties (13).

However, more research on humans is needed to establish the safety and efficacy of nettle leaves in controlling blood sugar levels. 

7. May Monitor Heart And Liver Health

In a 2018 rat study, the 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 (14).

Nettle extract boosts the antioxidant machinery in the body, thereby preventing (and ending) lipid peroxidation. A balanced lipid profile and healthy liver reduce the risk of hypercholesterolemia-induced diseases (15).

Hypercholesterolemia is linked to atherosclerosis and other inflammatory diseases. Nettle leaf helps prevent atherosclerosis and hypertension, as per rat studies. It is, hence, a potent hepato- and cardioprotective dietary additive (16).

8. May Help Treat Menstrual Health, PCOS, And Fertility Concerns

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

Oligomenorrhea and amenorrhea are changes in regular menstrual cycles that cause long menstrual cycles and the absence of menstruation, respectively. While hormone replacement therapy is the most common remedy, herbal medicine is proving to be effective in such cases (17).

Herbal extracts of nettle, peppermint, onion, and nigella showed a positive effect on polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). They could control menstrual bleeding, ameliorate menstrual irregularities, balance hyperandrogenism, and promote fertility (17).

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 (17), (18).

9. Can 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) (18).

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 (18).

Using stinging 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 (18).

In short, the leaf, root, and other parts of the 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 impart(s) these properties?

Absolutely! Learn more about them in the following section.

Nutritional Profile Of Stinging Nettles

The stinging nettle plant contains a load of phytochemicals. The fresh leaves contain β-carotene, violaxanthin, xanthophylls, zeaxanthin, luteoxanthin, and lutein epoxide that impart those mind-blowing benefits to this herb.

Nettle also contains phenolic acids, including carbonic, caffeic, caffeoyl malic, chlorogenic, formic, silicic, citric, fumaric, glyceric, malic, ellagic, oxalic, phosphoric, and succinic acids (19).

Quercetin, myricetin, isorhamnetin, kaempferol, etc. are the flavonoids. Acetylcholine, betaine, choline, lecithin, histamine, scololeptin, rutin, rosinidin, and naringin are a few other phytochemicals present in the nettle leaf, root, and stalk (19).

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

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

How To Consume It

Nettle leaves are very versatile and can be brewed as an herbal tea, taken as a supplement, and applied as an ointment.

You can buy dried/freeze-dried leaves, capsules, tinctures, and creams. Stinging nettle ointments are often used to ease osteoarthritis symptoms.

Studies suggest that the following doses are most effective for certain conditions (20):

  • Allergies: 600 mg of freeze-dried leaves per day
  • Enlarged prostate gland: 360 mg of root extract per day

It is available in many stores. The dried leaves and flowers can be steeped to make an herbal tea, while its leaves, roots, and stems can be cooked and added to soups, smoothies, and stews.

Blanched nettles can be a good addition to your salad. Try tossing a few nettle leaves into your salad. If that doesn’t sound appealing, you can brew a cup of fresh tea with nettle. 

How To Make Stinging Nettle Tea

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 saltwater 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.

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.

What Are The Side Effects Of Stinging Nettle?

Well, contrary to their wildness, nettles are considered safe. There are very few side effects of having them, but none are lethal or toxic (21).

Hair-like barbs of nettle leaves can harm the skin. These barbs can inject a variety of chemicals, such as (19):

  • Acetylcholine
  • Histamine
  • Serotonin
  • Moroidin
  • Formic acid

These compounds can cause burning and rashes.

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 (21).

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

Cooked and dried stinging nettle is safe to consume. However, eating fresh leaves may cause irritation.

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 encounters 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.

 Conclusion

Stinging nettle may reduce inflammation, aid blood sugar and blood pressure management, and boost hair growth and strength.

The leaves are packed with huge 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.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Does nettle tea help you sleep?

Yes. Nettle tea promotes better sleep without increasing blood sugar levels, which makes sleep deeper.

How much nettle tea should you drink a day?

The maximum recommended use of nettle tea is four cups per day.

Does nettle tea contain silica?

Yes, nettle leaves contain silica (22).

Is stinging nettle good for the kidneys?

Yes. The stinging nettle can therapeutic effects toward urinary tract ailments and kidney stones. The flavonoids, anthocyanins, and saponins present in stinging nettle can help inhibit calcium and oxalate deposition (23).

Does stinging nettle interact with medications?

Yes. Using herbal medicines like nettle leaves with anti-inflammatory drugs is not recommended as  they may interact with synthetic drugs. Do not take these leaves when you are on painkillers or similar medications without consulting your doctor.

23 sources

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Sindhu Koganti

Sindhu Koganti is a Biotechnology graduate and has been in the writing field for over 4 years now. She specializes in writing on Health and Wellness. She has hands-on experience in writing articles and press releases on Life Sciences and Healthcare, Food and Beverages, and Chemicals and Materials. When she’s not writing, she loves watching movies and listening to music. She also enjoys traveling.
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