Nettles, or stinging nettles as it is also called, is considered a nuisance weed largely due to the tiny hairs on its stem. These tiny hairs impart a stinging sensation when people make the mistake of trying to bare-handedly yank them out of the ground. And, while they may be the thorn in the sides of gardeners everywhere, they offer therapeutic properties that more than make up for their stingers. Some of the many health benefits of nettles include:
Native Americans used the herb stinging nettles for thousands of years to treat many health conditions, including allergies. Now, science has proven what these wise people knew from experience: nettles are an effective allergy treatment. In a study published in the medical journal Phytotherapy Research, Drs. Roschek, Fink, McMichael and Alberte at HerbalScience Group LLC, found that nettles worked on multiple levels to significantly reduce inflammation linked to allergies.
Nettles are actually a nutritional powerhouse. The herb is a little-known, but excellent source of calcium. What’s more: the calcium is highly absorbable and alkaline, unlike that found in dairy products. It’s easy to drink nettles tea or take it in a tincture form, but you can also add fresh nettle leaves to soups or stews. They have a flavor and texture similar to spinach. Don’t worry, cooking the leaves for at least 30 seconds eliminates any stinging effect of the plant.
Exciting research in the journal Neuroscience Letters found that nettles showed tremendous capacity to assist many of the health issues linked to diabetes, including: reducing high blood sugar levels, reducing the symptom of excessive thirst, improving body weight, regulating insulin levels, reducing the pain of neuropathy and even improving memory and cognition. While the research using nettles for diabetes is still in its infancy, these impressive results suggest that the herb holds great promise for the disease.
Some studies suggest that taking nettles extract internally can help reduce the pain of osteoarthritis and the dose of anti-inflammatory drugs used by individuals with the condition. Of course, you should not discontinue or reduce your dose of any medication without consulting your physician.
Nettles has been found to be superior to the drug finasteride in the treatment of the prostate condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition in which the prostate becomes enlarged and presses on the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder), thereby reducing urine flow and emptying of the bladder. Researchers are unclear as to how stinging nettles works for this purpose but suspect hormonal pathways. Regardless, the researchers are clear that it does work and that it works as effectively as the common drug used in its treatment.
In another recent double-blind study, the leaves of the stinging nettle were investigated for their ability to assist with sinus problems due to allergies. Participants taking nettles had noticeably higher rates of symptom improvement from allergic rhinitis than those taking the placebo.
Nettles are best cooked or made into an alcohol extract to nullify their stinging effects. It takes only about 30 seconds of cooking time to eliminate the sting when eating this highly nutritious plant. They can be added to soups and stews or sautéed like spinach or other green leafy vegetable. However, they are also conveniently available in the dried form for making tea, liquid tinctures to take as drops, or in capsule form, if you want to skip the nettles-picking experience altogether.
Medicinally, fresh nettles are superior to dried ones so it is worth donning a pair of thick gloves to harvest this healing plant. Avoid use of nettles topically on open wounds or internally during pregnancy.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include the book: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty Cooking.