What is it?
In herbal medicine we use the dried leaves of Nettles, a remarkably nutrient-rich herb which has acrid components in its stinging hairs such as formic acid and histamine.
How has it been used?
Nettles are a traditional spring tonic for people that had become depleted and deficient through winter. Similarly Nettles has long been used to boost and enrich milk supply in both humans and animals and Nettles were traditionally used with Raspberry leaf as a pregnancy tonic to avoid anemia and support healthy growth.
Nettle is recognized as one of the great cleansing herbs and has been widely used for the treatment of rheumatism, gout, kidney stones and chronic skin diseases, especially eczema.
Nettles were also very widely used directly for severe joint pain where the practice of 'Urtication' involved taking fresh stinging nettle and rubbing the herb over the affected areas. Of course this hurts somewhat and you can be sure that no-one would have done this if it did not considerably help!
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Science on Nettles
~ A multicentre surveillance study examined the safety and therapeutic benefit of a nettle leaf extract in nearly 9000 patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. After a three week period 82% of patients believed that the treatment had relieved their symptoms, 26% no longer required to take anti-inflammatory drugs and 38% said that they were willing to reduce their drug therapy (Buck G. Z Phytother 1998; 19(4):216)
~ Twenty healthy volunteers took 1.34 grams of Nettle leaf extract for 3 weeks. The medicine significantly decreased the release of certain compounds associated with inflammation and tissue damage. Nettle leaf extract has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity by other laboratory studies and is believed to work by inhibiting cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase derived reactions (Teucher T, Obertreis B, Ruttkowski T et al. Arnzneim Forsch 1996; 46(1):52-56)
~ The sting of Nettle leaf has been shown to be beneficial in treating osteoarthritic pain at the base of the thumb or index finger in a randomised, double-blind, controlled, crossover trial. Nettle or placebo was stroked over the painful area daily. Nettle hairs contain high levels of leukotrienes and histamine (Randall C et al: J R Soc Med 93(6):305-309, 2000)
Safety of Nettles
Obviously you have to be very careful handling fresh Nettles but once dried or taken as a tincture they are extremely safe to use, even in high or frequent doses. No adverse reactions are expected and Nettles may safely be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding (where they may be expected to encourage the production of healthy milk)
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I frequently use Nettles as part of tea and tincture formulae that aim to cleanse heat, inflammation and stuck 'dampness' from the body. It is a powerhouse of a herb, used wisely for the right person it can be the turning point in a matter of days from sickness towards health.
For something that is commonly regarded as a nuisance weed at best and a dangerous stinger at worst I have found Nettles to be a remarkably effective health ally in many cases of impaired urinary flow, chronic eczema, hay fever and arthritis; none of which are easy conditions to shift by any stretch of the imagination!
Nettles are also a highly nutritive plant to give as a tonic either in food or medicine. The old tradition of using it in spring time to cleanse the heavy congestion of Winter food and lighten the body for the longer days ahead is still wise and good to this day. I frequently feel a strong instinct to include Nettles in formulae for people in the spring. It cleanses the blood in a gentle but sure way and is very safe to give to all ages.
Another time I frequently think of Nettles is when people have lost a lot of fluid from their bodies, for example from chronic diarrhoea or heavy periods. Here you can see its stabilising and nourishing properties come to the fore and it rapidly helps to restore the depleted energy that comes from such loss. Likewise men who lose their urinary strength as they age often do very well on Nettles. I'm not so sure if this is because it shrinks an enlarged prostate (as has been suggested) but rather is due to its general tonic effects on the blood in general and the kidneys in particular.
If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or perhaps have your own reasons to want to understand this plant ally at a much deeper level then I warmly encourage you to take a cup of Nettle tea or a tsp of its tincture and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe for yourself how it makes you feel. Following this ancient practice of experiential learning should give you an appreciation of the 'action' of Nettles and I predict you will be in no uncertainty about how deep reaching is its potency if you do this even just the once!
Allergy Tea - for hay fever or hives
15gms Elder flower
10gms Sage leaf
2.5gms - Peppermint
The dose is 3 full teaspoons into one large cup of freshly boiled water. You cover the cup and let it sit for 10 minutes before straining it off (you could use a tea-pot or coffee plunger etc. to do the infusion). It is ok to add honey and you need to sip the tea whilst it is still hot to get all the benefits.
I have a high success rate with seasonal hay-fever and hives using this formula.. Don’t expect the tea to work immediately like an anti-histamine might but most people do start obviously responding to the treatment if they have at least one dose a day for at least three days.
Large doses of Nettles may be needed for a rapid effect and this is where the tea of Nettles is probably to be preferred. For example we make an allergy tea that centres on nettle leaf (the formula for this is written up below) that will give you an indicator to how much I see being needed to work quickly.
I'm not shy of quite high doses in tincture form either and about 4 mls a day for an average adult seems ample to see its cleansing, nutritive and healing actions.
Nettles combines very well with Raspberry leaf in pregnancy as a tonic, it works well with Alfalfa as a tonic for weak blood, with Elder for allergies and with Juniper for a marvellous cleansing remedy for joint pain.
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Urtication - Nettles for joint pain
One of the greatest virtues of Nettles is unquestionably in its ability to help with the dreadful chronic aches of rheumatism or arthritis. The internal medicine is certainly likely to be of help and may be as far as most people will take it but I would also encourage someone to be open-minded about trying Urtication.
You can try this by getting some fresh nettles (very easy to grow in a pot at home if this turns out to be an effective aid) and then developing the practice of brushing or rubbing the affected area with a leaf. Yes it will certainly sting but there may be a great deal of relief subsequently and, as anyone with a deep joint ache knows; there are worse kinds of pain! If it will really help you then you will know about it from the first treatment and then you may wish to try it again, in which case read the following.
Notes on Urtication
If you are game to try and you do find that you get relief from brushing the skin over your painful joint with fresh Nettle leaf and so you want to adopt it as your medicine then you need to be aware of the following points
a) do not wash the treated area with cold water for the rest of the day or the pleasant warmth and relief from pain will be replaced by an unpleasant burning sensation (will be fine to wash after 8 hours)
b) do the treatment daily for no more than 3 days and then take a break for at least 2-3 days otherwise you will become desensitised to its effects (conversely doing this on/off approach should cause you to become increasingly responsive to the treatment as your joint gets more blood flow and the tissues make progress with their attempt to self-heal.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Nettle leaf is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Nettle leaf can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Nettles are astringent, tonic, and diuretic. A decoction is valuable in diarrhoea and dysentery, with profuse discharges, and in hemorrhoids, various hemorrhages, and scorbutic affections, and has been recommended in febrile affections, gravel, and other nephritic complaints.
The leaves of the fresh plant stimulate, inflame, and even raise blisters on those portions of the skin with which they come in contact, and have, in consequence, been used as a powerful rubefacient. Paralysis is said to have been cured by whipping the affected limbs with them.
Applied to bleeding surfaces, they are an excellent styptic. Some physicians prescribe the remedy internally at the same time that they are using it locally. It is also a remedy for chronic cystitis, with mucous discharges. Warts, rubbed with the freshly expressed juice of this plant, 3 or 4 times a day, continuing the application daily for 10 or 12 days, disappear without any pain being produced
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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