Nettle

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Urtica dioica (L)

 

Synonyms and Common names: Urticae herba, Urticae radix, Stinging nettle, common nettle

German = Grosse brandnetel, French = Grande ortie, Spanish = ortiga, Italian = Grande ortica

Order: Labiatae

Description: Urtica dioica is a native British perennial growing in damp forests or wherever land has been disturbed by Man. It has a richly-branched yellow rhizome, which spreads which over large areas, and from which grow numerous erect, quadrangular stems. These are up to 120cm tall and are covered with long stinging hairs and short bristly hairs. The opposite, stalked, cordate or lanceolate leaves are serrated at the margin and covered on both sides with stinging hairs. The flowers are unisexual, the plants dioecious, although monoecious ones do occur. The flowers are arranged in drooping panicles, growing in groups from the upper leaf axils. The male inflorescences are erect and shortly branched, with four perianth segments and four stamens. The female flowers have two perianth segments and a superior ovary with a stalkless stigma. The fruit is an achene. 

Parts used: the leaves or aerial parts of young plants; roots

Collection: the leaves are collected from June to October during the flowering period, the roots in spring and autumn.

Constituents: Leaves: Flavonoids (isoquercitin, rutin); acrid components, particularly in the stinging hairs (including histamine and 5-hydroxytryptamine, formic acid, volatile and resinous acids); silica, glucoquinone, tannins, ascorbic acid and other minerals and vitamins in appreciable levels. Root: polysaccharides, sterols and sterol glucosides, lignans, ceramides, fatty acids, monoterpene diols and glucosides

Actions: mild diuretic, astringent, tonic, haemostatic, dermatological agent; extracts are reported to have hypoglycaemic properties.

Indications: rheumatic conditions, uterine haemorrhage, cutaneous eruptions, infantile and psychogenic eczema, epistaxis, melaena. Specifically indicated in nervous eczema. The root is indicated in the symptomatic treatment of micturition disorders such as nocturia, pollakisuria, dysuria and urine retention and in benign prostatic hyperplasia.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Urtica is rich in iron and vitamin C, making it a useful remedy in anaemia and other debilitated states, the presence of the vitamin C ensuring that the iron is properly absorbed. The herb has an important effect on the kidney and on fluid and uric acid excretion, so is of benefit in gout and other arthritic conditions, particularly if there is an element of anaemia. The painful, irritant effect of the sting is lost on drying or heating with water, but if preserved in cold alcoholic tincture the irritant action is preserved. A tincture of the fresh leaf applied locally to an inflamed joint will induce counter-irritation and produce reddening over the joint. Blood is thus flushed through the area and out to the surface of the skin, where the toxins may even be taken off in the fluid of a burst blister.

Urtica is also of benefit in chronic skin conditions such as eczema, helping to cleanse the body of accumulated toxins. An infusion of the dried leaf is effective in helping to control dandruff and hair loss on the scalp. As a haemostatic and astringent, Urtica helps check wound bleeding and to treat menorrhagia; it is also used for haemorrhoids and can be taken internally to treat gastric and intestinal problems. The powdered leaves were traditionally used as a snuff to arrest nosebleeds.

Urtica is known to stimulate milk flow in nursing mothers, and is often used in this way by farmers for their stock. It  has been shown experimentally to have both hypoglycaemic and hyperglycaemic properties, the hypoglycaemic component being ‘urticin’. 

In a clinical trial, men with benign prostatic hypertrophy (Stages I and II) were treated with a dried standardised Urtica root extract for 20 weeks. A morphologically relevant effect on the prostate adenoma cells was found that may be due to competitive inhibition by the extract of the binding capacity of SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin). An increased binding capacity of SHBG to testosterone and dihydrotestosterone results in hyperplasia as a compensation for a decrease in hormones. Other clinical trials have reported improvements in urinary flow, and reduced urinary frequency, nocturia and residual urine after six months treatment.

Combinations: Urtica combines well with Arctium root in any detoxifying regime.

Caution: In a few individuals, exposure to the histamine in fresh nettles can be extremely dangerous. However, in the dried or cooked state nettles are completely non-toxic and may be eaten freely as a vegetable or drunk as an infusion.

Preparation and Dosage: (thrice daily)

Regulatory Status: GSL Schedule 1

Dried herb: 3-6g or by infusion

Liquid Extract 1:1 in 25% alcohol, 2-4ml

Tincture 1:5 in 45% alcohol, 2-6ml

Fresh juice: 5-10ml

Additional Comments: The Romans treated rheumatic conditions by flaying their joints with fresh nettles so as to stimulate blood circulation. Nettles are a good source of chlorophyll, and are a traditional spring tonic. In spring, the fresh green leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach or made into a soup. Urtica urens (L), the small, or annual nettle, is also used medicinally, and has similar actions to Urtica dioica. U. urens is prescribed in homoeopathic medicine for rheumatic pain, burns and nettle rash.

 

Bibliography

Bartram, T. 1995 Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine, 1st edn., Grace Publishers, Bournemouth.

Bradley, P.R. (ed.) 1992 British Herbal Compendium, Volume 1, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Bremness, L. 1994 Herbs, Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Handbook, London.

BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Chevallier, A. 1996 The Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants, Dorling Kindersley, London.

ESCOP Monograph, 1996 Urticae radix, European Scientific Committee on Phytotherapy

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.  

Hyperhealth 1996 Natural Health and Nutrition Databank, v.96.1 CD-ROM, ©In-Tele-Health

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Mabey, R. (ed.) 1991 The Complete New Herbal, Penguin, London.

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine, Penguin, London (First published in 1991 as Out of the Earth, Arkana)

Newall, C.A., Anderson, L.A., & Phillipson, J.D. 1996 Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals, The Pharmaceutical Press, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Polunin, M. and Robbins, C. 1992 The Natural Pharmacy, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Prihoda, A. 1989 The Healing Powers of Nature, Octopus, London.

Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.

 

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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ©Purple Sage Botanicals