Nettles urtica dioica

By Dr. Sarah Larson, ND, LAc

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica, Urtica urens or Urtica radix) has been used medicinally for centuries and has several therapeutic benefits, including the relief of pain, treatment of urinary tract infection, reduction of enlarged prostate and powerful antihistamine properties (hello, allergy season!).

Commonly found in nearly every state in the U.S., you will know if you have come across nettles. An itchy, raised, red rash will show up on exposed areas of your skin if you’ve come in contact with the nettle leaves. The leaves have small, hollow hairs that release chemicals when disturbed; these are what cause your skin to react with swelling, itch, pain and redness. Though the effect is temporary, nettles stings can distract from an otherwise pleasant walk.

Joint Pain

But here is how that distracting effect can be put to use to aid our health. Arthritic joints and other types of joint pain can be helped by applying the nettle leaves directly to painful regions. When nettle leaves are intentionally placed on the skin over joints, the chemicals that cause the itchy, red bumps act to reduce the body’s ability to produce pain signals. This is a temporary but useful effect. When live nettle leaves were applied to the skin over thumb joints affected by osteoarthritis, subjects reported a significant reduction in pain with no side effects after one week of use. Interestingly, the best pain reduction was noted only if a red wheal or bump on the skin was produced with application of the nettle leaf1.

Seasonal Allergies

Spring is the best time to employ the antihistamine properties of nettles. Taken as a tea, in capsule form or liquid tincture, nettles can reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies, including runny nose. A study in 2017 showed a significant decrease in allergic rhinitis (runny nose) symptoms in those suffering from sinus congestion, sneezing, and runny nose among other symptoms2. This study was quite small and was only conducted for 30 days, so further research is certainly needed.

High in Vitamins and Minerals

Another way nettles can be helpful is by simply eating the new spring growth. Sautéed nettles are delicious and provide several important nutrients. Rest assured, the stinging filaments are denatured or destroyed during the cooking process so you can eat them with confidence. This helpful plant contains Vitamin A, D and C as well as iron, calcium and potassium3.

Emerge Natural Health features organically sourced nettles at our Herb Bar. If you would like to learn how to incorporate nettles into your health regimen, please make an appointment with one of our naturopathic physicians at Emerge Natural Health. Call (360) 787-3615.

  1. Larkin, Marilynn. Nettles take the sting out of arthritis pain. The Lancet, Published:June 03, 2000
  2. Medhi Bakhshae, et al. . Efficacy of Supportive Therapy of Allergic Rhinitis by Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) root extract: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo- Controlled, Clinical Trial. Iran J Pharm Res,  2017 Winter; 16(Suppl): 112–118.

Photo by Paul Morley on Unsplash