Herb of the Month: Nettle

Herb of the Month: Nettle

Cara Green

Urtica dioica, or “stinging nettle”, as some may call it, is a circulatory herb that grows abundantly in the wild with pointed leaves proudly flaunting small hairs that sting and poke upon contact. If you live in regions where nettles grow, you may have been fore-warned about them by elders from an early age with warnings to “stay away from the nettles or you will get stung!”. While the sting of the nettle feels a bit jarring if you have been bit by the plant by accident, the effects of being stung are usually mild for most individuals. Small hives that itch, or a dermatitis that lasts a few hours is a reaction most can expect on the skin. However, for some who are more sensitive, stinging nettle can leave a longer lasting irritation on the skin that is uncomfortable, patchy, and red. So, always take caution when interacting with this powerful plant in the wild. 

Although early childhood warnings taught us to stay away from these stingers, there are many folks who intentionally embrace and seek out nettle stings in order to induce the stimulation and circulatory effects of nettle. I personally believe that one of the most effective and powerful ways to utilize the medicine of this plant is to interact with its sting directly. The hollow hairs that grow on the stem and leaves of the plant inject histamine and formic acid into your skin when they make contact. My first experience with nettles was through foraging, when I intentionally embraced the bite from dozens of leaves. I felt the effects of this plant almost immediately. The sting of the nettles left small hives on my skin, and a bit of redness surrounding the contact points that lasted a few hours. Nearly instantaneously I felt a wash of stimulation move through my body, as my blood began to circulate and react. I felt energized and awake, and I tingled from head to toe, most sensationally where the stingers had touched my skin. I honestly felt really surprised by how deeply the medicine of this plant was affecting me purely through touch. (Mind you, I had foraged baskets of nettles by this point). Interacting with this incredible plant in this intimate way gave me new insight to the medicine nettles carry, and allowed me to understand this plant and my body in a deeper way. Receiving nettle medicine through direct contact has a very potent and immediate effect than consuming it internally. Of course, I am not the first to learn about nettle medicine in this way. For thousands of years, healers and traditional ways of medicine have used the raw nettle plant to treat symptoms of arthritis, pain, and stimulate circulation by topically rubbing the hairy leaves over the skin of the symptomatic area, a modality that is still practiced to this day. 

But what if you don’t want to get stung? Neatly, the stingers of nettles fall off when the leaves are dried! So there are plenty of other avenues of ingesting or working with nettles that don't involve those prickly stingers. Teas, tinctures, capsules, oils, you name it-it’s out there. A lot of folks like to harvest young nettles in early spring to cook with, as they are tender and have a rich green flavor similar to spinach. By cooking them, the hairs tenderize and are perfectly safe to eat. There are many fun recipes out there such as nettle pesto and nettle soups that make great meals to incorporate into your diet during spring and summer.

If we look at versatility, nutrition, tradition, and efficacy, nettles are a leader in the plant medicine kingdom. Nettles are known and used all over the world today, recognized for their amazing health benefits. Being utilized in, hair and skin care supplements, vitamin blends, and so much more. As herbalism becomes more widely accepted, Nettles has gained popularity in the wellness industry over the last few decades, next to other staple herbs like ashwagandha, turmeric, and mushrooms like reishi and lions mane.  However, like all herbs, nettles and humans have a rich history that spans thousands of years in time and across many cultures. The first documented use of nettles dates back to the Bronze Age which occurred from 3000 BCE to 1200 BCE in which Julius Caesar’s troops used nettles to stay awake during the night. As always, the use of nettles most likely predates this account, as many cultures passed traditions of medicine down orally. For example, burial cloths made with nettle fibers have been found, and certain ancient folklore surrounding this plant mentions its powers of bringing fertility, protection, and an association with the otherworld. 

In Ayurveda, nettles are categorized as bitter, salty, cool, and dry. Nettles are a diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, and laxative. This plant is absolutely rich in terms of vitamins, minerals and protein! Nettles contain on average more protein than most leafy greens, have high levels of vitamins A and C, and are a nutritious source for calcium, iron, magnesium, and antioxidants that help to fight against free radicals in the body. Nettles' astringent element assists in soothing gastro-intestinal and kidney complaints, and also makes nettles a lovely tonic for hair and skin care. They help with boosting overall vitality through vitamin and mineral content, and by detoxing the body. Nettles can be used to improve heart function and circulation by stimulating blood flow and the lymphatic system. Other ways nettles are utilized medicinally is for treating respiratory infections, constipation, seasonal allergies, hormonal health, joint pain, prostate function, skin conditions, and more. Not only this, but nettles also contain strong fibers that make a great substitute for cotton thread, as well as making natural cordage, and the bright green leaves can be used to dye fabrics. At one time, nettles were nicknamed “silk of the north” and were used to craft gorgeous threads for items such as wedding dresses and burial cloths.

Whether you are seeking to treat an ailment such as arthritis or respiratory infection, looking to improve your skin and hair appearance, or just simply wanting to boost your overall wellness and vitality, look no further than nettles. Good for just about anything, nettles promise to give you that extra boost of nutrition, energy, and wellness that you deserve! 

You can find nettles in our Vital Greens Powder, Prostate Care Kit, Embrace The Womb Tea, Prostate Nourishment Capsule, Milkin’ It Tincture, Balancing Chaste Berry No-Salt Seasoning, Herbal Dip Blend, Aquila Allergy Relief Elixir, Nutritive Beginnings Tincture, and more. 


An Essential Guide to Nettle: History, Benefits & Uses: Gaia Herbs®

Nettle History, Folklore, Myth and Magic | The Practical Herbalist

Silk of the North: Nettles — A Botanical History | by Danielle Herring | Plant Based Past | Feb, 2024 | Medium

Stinging Nettle: Wild Plant as Food and Natural Remedy | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Back to blog