Nettles (Urtica dioica) Monograph

Posted by Nathan on 16th Apr 2017

Urtica dioica

Latin Name: Urtica dioica

Common name(s): Nettle, Big string nettle, common nettle, devil’s leaf, European nettle

Family: Urticeae

Botany: The species is divided into six subspecies. Five of them have hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems. The plant grows 3 to 7 ft tall in the summer months, and then dies back during the winter. It has spreading rhizomes, which have a yellow hue, as do the roots. The green leaves are 1 to 6 inches long and grow on the opposite sides of a rigid, wiry green stem. The leaves and stems are very hairy, with both stinging and non-stinging hairs. The stinging hairs, or trichomes, have tips that come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that can inject several chemicals: histamines, acetylcholine, 5-HT (serotonin),moroidin,leukotrienes,and formic acid. This mixture of chemical compounds causes a painful sting or paresthesia.

Habitat: Native to Western North America, Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa, Nettles have been introduced and naturalized around the globe. Naturally found in meadows and lightly wooded areas. Also often found growing in disturbed areas, such as on farms, in lawns and gardens, recently dug construction sites, etc.

History/Folklore: Nettle fiber was commonly used in producing textiles in Europe during the 19th century and before. Early 20th century herbalist Maude Grieve reported Nettles being used as a treatment for diabetes symptoms. She wrote of a case of a man eating a diet of young Nettles for three days (following a two day fast), and also drinking an infusion of Nettles. In Ireland, Nettles tea was also used as a treatment for measles rash.

Parts used: leaves, root, seeds

Energetics: Cooling

Constituents: Histamine, acetylcholine, choline, serotonin, starch, gum, albumen, sugar, resin, oleanol acid, sterols and steryl glycosides

Actions: diuretic, nutritive, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant, hemostatic, tonic, astringent

Mineral and Nutrient Content: High levels of protein, more than almost any other leafy plant. Also contain flavonoids, lignans, minerals (calcium, potassium, iron, and silicon) and vitamins A, B2, C and K, organic acids, plant sterols, polysaccharides, lectins and tannins.

Medicinal Use: Nettles are a great nutritive herb. They are commonly used to treat anemia (blood loss and/or blood deficiencies), with the leaves in particular containing a high iron content. They help balance blood pressure and lower blood sugar levels, and are considered a gentle diuretic and restorative for the kidneys and bladder. Nettles also help reduce sneezing and itching from hay fever, other seasonal allergies. They may also be useful for addressing food allergy symptoms. As an anti-inflammatory, Nettles are commonly used for pain relief, particularly in the muscles and joints from arthritis, and gout. As an expectorant, Nettles are good for common respiratory issues like bronchitis, asthma, mucus conditions of the lungs, and chronic coughs. In addition, they can be added as a supportive herb in cold and flu formulas. Eating nettles or drinking the tea makes your hair brighter, thicker and shinier, and makes your skin clearer and healthier. They have been used on hair/scalp to prevent hair loss, dandruff, as well as a lice treatment, and they’re also good for eczema and other skin conditions. Nettles have cleansing and antiseptic properties as well, so the tea is also good in facial steams and rinses. And finally, the root is a beneficial specific for treating prostate issues.

Nettles and household products:Nettles' long, fibrous stems have been used for weaving, cloth-making, paper-making, embroidery, and making fish nets. In addition, a yellow die can be made from the roots.

Nettles and animals: No grazing animal will eat a live nettle, but when nettles are mowed and dried, all kinds of livestock eat them avidly and thrive on them. Horses get shinier coats and improve in health when fed dried nettles. Cows give more and richer milk when fed on nettle hay. Hens lay more eggs when powdered nettle leaves are added to their mash, and these eggs actually have a higher food value. Even the manure from nettle-fed animals is improved, and makes better fertilizer.

Nettles as Fertilizer:Nettles furnish one of the most valuable of all plant substances to use as a mulch in your garden, or to add to your compost pile. Having approximately seven percent nitrogen, figured on a dry-weight basis, this plant is richer in this essential nutrient than many commercial fertilizers.

Common preparation: Tea, tincture

Contraindications: N/A


Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. 1990, Pocket Books, New York.

Allen, David and Gabrielle Hatfield. Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: An Ethnobotany of Britain and Ireland. Timber Press: Portland, Oregon, 2012.