The Monthly Wort
The Monthly Wort will provide readers with detailed descriptions of specifically chosen herbs (aka “wort”, meaning a useful herb), splitting it into 4 categories over the span of the month. Herbal History, Medicinal Uses, Magical Uses and Growing/Harvesting. In order to get the full scope of each plant, stay tuned every week as we delve into spiritual and practical experience of Herbalism.
The reason I grow nettles in my garden is largely the same reason any herbalist does: They make a great deer and rabbit deterrent, sure, but also they hold amazing medicinal value. To start, nettle has one of the highest chlorophyll contents of any plants (which benefits your immune system and also acts as a detoxifier), ranks high in vegetable protein, and his high in vitamins such as A, B1, B2, C and K. Its nutritional value doesn’t stop there, as it also contains calcium, iron and magnesium, which is why many cultures, particularly Native Americans, took advantage of this green when other plants were scarce. They obviously didn’t know the exact properties in nettle that made it such a helpful plant, but they certainly discovered how well it could sustain them during hard, dry springs and passed that knowledge down through generations.
Ouch! Why the Heck Would I Eat Nettle?
You might be thinking, “How the hell do people eat this? Are they crazy?” It is true that stinging nettles don’t just have that name because of amusing rhetoric. The trichomes, which appear as tiny transparent hairs along the stem and under the leaves, can indeed give a good bite. The nettle hairs contain a large range of chemicals that affect the human skin and body, such as acetylcholine and serotonin, to name a few. Luckily, they are mostly made from silica, which means they can break easily away from their host – which is how you get them in your skin and ache from them for hours; but this also means that, with a little processing, you can rid the plant of its needles. By soaking the nettles in hot/warm water or cooking them, it will dissolve the needles. Also using heat to cook the nettles, like sautéing them in with butter or sauces, can be just as effective. Some people just blend them into smoothies and seem to ingest them fine, although that seems a bit too risky for me. That and I prefer a breakfast I can chew.
Note: After the stinging nettle enters its flowering and seeding stages, the leaves usually develop cystoliths which, being gritty particles, can irritate the urinary tract. Keep updated on this blog to find out about growing and harvesting stinging nettle in The Monthly Wort: Stinging Nettle (Part 4).
Stinging Nettles for Arthritis Therapy
Even if you can get rid of the hairs, some people need them in their treatments! A study done at the University of Plymouth found that stinging nettle therapy helped their patients with arthritis have significantly reduced pain over the course of their weeklong treatment, and that it also stayed lower throughout the continuance of the treatment.
Their hairs on stinging nettle leaves contain a variety of anti-inflammatory properties that have been recognized to help deal with pain and inflammation. Researchers have also investigated its other properties, such as antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-ulcer. The leaf’s sting itself, when applied to the afflicted area, can provide counter-irritation that decreases pain by depleting substance P, similar to the effect of capscaicin. In an article titled Stinging Nettle Cream for Osteoarthritis (by contributing authors Keith Rayburn, MD; Eric Fleischbein, PharmD; Jessica Song, PharmaD; Blaine Allen, RN; Mary Kundert, PharmD; Charles Leiter, PharmD; Thomas Bush, MD), they discuss the results of tests done in the treatment of arthritis through use of stinging nettle, noting that the exact chemical or property that is helpful isn’t easily identified; yet, it doesn’t make it any less helpful.
Hay Fever, UTIs and a Bandaid
It has also been described as being an anodyne, astringent, diuretic, tonic, styptic, nutritive, anti-rheumatic, anti-allergenic, decongestant, anti-spasmodic and antihistamine. More specifically, it is used for urination problems in relation to enlarged prostates, as well as used in “irrigation therapy” for UTIs, and kidney stones. The aerial parts are popularly used to ward off seasonal allergies and hayfever.
The term “styptic” might remind you of another Monthly Wort that I did months ago showcasing yarrow, which shared the same ability to staunch bleeding. Using the aerial parts of stinging nettle, you can aid internal bleeding, nosebleeds and bowel bleeding.
How to Take Stinging Nettle
Luckily, there is no extreme way to take ingest this herb. While surface skin treatments are used to help with arthritis, other issues such as allergies or urinary issues can be fixed by drinking stinging nettles in a tea, taking them in a tincture form or even eating them, so long as the nutrients aren’t cooked out. For tea, use one tablespoon of the herb in a standard cup, refilling with new hot water throughout the day if necessary. I wouldn’t use more than 4 tablespoons a day, my rule of thumb with most herbs. For tinctures, 10-15 drops under the tongue should do the trick for the standard dose.
Side Effects and Warnings
Through research, it has been found that stinging nettle is possibly safe when taken orally for up to two years or applied to skin. Despite that, there are people who are more sensitive to it and note that they have stomach pains and sweating as a reaction. Although I am just speculating here, that may have to do with irritation caused by the hairs due from improper handling or processing.
For those pregnant and breastfeeding, the jury is still out on that one. I have read several blogs by women who drank nettle tea and ate it throughout their entire pregnancy and seemed to have no problems. However, judging by other sources I’ve pulled from, it might stimulate uterine contractions and cause a miscarriage. I’ve found the same contradicting information when it comes to most plants in the mint family. It can be soothing on one hand, but misuse or unmonitored portioning can cause irreversible damage. My only suggestion for mothers is to talk to your doctor before ingesting nettle while pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you have diabetes, there is evidence that ingesting stinging nettle can decrease your blood sugar levels. It is important to monitor your blood sugar carefully while taking nettle. The same goes for low blood pressure. If you are prone to low blood pressure, discuss using stinging nettle with your doctor or health care provider before taking the leap.
For those with kidney problems, nettle can increase your urine flow, which may play a role in your body’s functioning. Again, consult a doctor on the matter.
Where Can I Find Stinging Nettle?
Stinging nettle can be found in most health food stores or homeopathic shops. It is very common to find in the wild and, as long as you are confident in your plant identification skills, you can harvest it (responsibly and without inflicting harm on the ecosystem it lives in) and dry it at home yourself. Hang around until Part 4 to read about how to grow and harvest your own stinging nettle.
That’s about the size of it, folks! Next week, we discuss the fun magical history of stinging nettles and how you can integrate them into your spiritual practices. Until then, sting away!