Also known as "stinging nettle" because the prickly hollow needles on its dark green leaves sting and burn upon contact, nettle (Urtica dioica) is an ancient herbal remedy for snakebites, asthma, arthritis, urinary tract inflammation, and excessive menstrual flow. While the above-ground parts of the plant--the leaf and the stem--are generally still used for these purposes, the roots are now popular for treating the discomforts of an enlarged prostate.
This flowering perennial can be found growing wild in the wastelands of the United States, Canada, and Europe. It's even used as a kitchen herb in many parts of world. Luckily, drying or boiling the plant dissolves the painful bristles. Many people like to steam the leaves to eat like spinach, or simmer them in soup. The young shoots are actually quite rich in vitamin C.
The herb and leaf have several known therapeutic qualities: They fight inflammation, act as an antihistamine, and have a diuretic effect, meaning they increase the flow of urine. The herb has also been explored as a treatment for the premenstrual bloating (fluid retention) that many women develop before their periods.
Arthritis sufferers may benefit from nettle's anti-inflammatory actions. In fact, nettle leaf extract is a Native American folk remedy for rheumatic pains. Topical formulations of nettle herb juice have been used to treat joint pain, too, as well as acne, hemorrhoids, and other skin problems. There is now evidence that taking the herb along with a prescription arthritis drug (diclofenac was used in one study) enables arthritis sufferers to reduce their dosage of prescription medication. (Don't undertake such a change without consulting your doctor, however.)
Rich in silica and other minerals important for nail growth, a cup of nettle leaf tea a day may help to nourish and strengthen nails.
Specifically, nettle may help to:
Fight urinary tract infections. Drinking nettle leaf tea has become popular in Germany for treating bladder infections and other inflammations of the lower urinary tract. In addition to promoting the excretion of excess fluids (which helps flush out harmful bacteria) the herb has immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties.
Treat prostate problems. Nettle root appears to be particularly useful for men with BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia), a condition in which the prostate gland gradually enlarges, slowly narrowing the urethra that drains urine from the bladder and ultimately causing urination difficulties. Study findings indicate that preparations made from nettle root specifically (not the stems or leaves) may relieve some of the early symptoms of BPH, including nighttime urination and residual urine. The root may do this by slowing the growth of the prostate, but more research is needed.
Nettle root extract, when blended with an extract of the herb pygeum africanum, may inhibit the hormonal changes that lead to BPH. In fact, herbal remedies for prostate enlargement frequently combine these herbs along with saw palmetto, another natural substance that has shown great promise in controlling BPH symptoms.
Reduce seasonal allergy (hay fever) symptoms. Familiar hay fever symptoms--nasal congestion, sneezing, itching, watery eyes--are triggered by an immune-system overreaction to airborne particles (allergens) such as pollen and ragweed. Nettle leaf may help minimize hay fever discomforts by supplying compounds that inhibit the release of histamine, the inflammatory substance triggered by these allergens.
Unfortunately, there has been very little research on the value of nettle for hay fever sufferers. In one clinical trial, however, more than half of the hay fever sufferers taking nettle (in freeze-dried form) reported moderate to excellent relief from allergy symptoms. In contrast, less than 40% of those taking a placebo felt any better.
Special tip: When buying nettle supplements, make sure to differentiate nettle leaf from nettle root because they are used differently. Try to purchase either in a freeze-dried form or as a standardized extract.
For urinary tract infections: Drink several cups of nettle leaf tea daily. To make the tea, use 2 teaspoons of dried nettle leaf for each 8 ounces of water. Pour very hot (not boiling) water over the herb, steep for 5 minutes, and then strain. You can add 1 teaspoon of echinacea or goldenseal to the tea to enhance its immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory effects.
For prostate problems: Take 500 mg standardized extract of nettle root twice a day in conjunction with other prostate-healthy herbs such as saw palmetto (160 mg twice a day) and pygeum africanum (100 mg twice a day).
For seasonal allergies: Take a 250 mg or 300 mg nettle leaf capsule containing the standardized extract three times a day on an empty stomach.
Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Nettle, which has therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.
Guidelines for Use
Except when treating hay fever, which responds best to nettle taken on an empty stomach, take this herb (or root) with food to lessen the risk of stomach upset.
As a diuretic, nettle leaf promotes urination. To avoid dehydration and a healthy balance of body fluids, be sure to drink plenty of liquids throughout the day while taking nettle.
Keep in mind that the root of the nettle plant is the only form effective for prostate problems. When treating any other ailment, select a product made from the leaf or other above-ground part of the nettle plant.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with nettle root.
However, the leaf and other above-ground parts of the plant contain compounds that could, in theory, cause unwanted interactions with certain medications. Consult your doctor before combining these forms of nettle with the following medications: anticoagulants (blood-thinners), antidiabetes drugs (they may interfere with blood sugar control), blood pressure medications (excessive amounts of nettle may interfere with blood pressure control), drugs that suppress the central nervous system (their effects may be increased), and the anti-inflammatory diclofenac.
Possible Side Effects
Nettle is considered quite safe at commonly recommended dosages. Occasionally, however, the root in particular causes mild indigestion, diarrhea, or other stomach upset. Taking nettle with food may lessen the risk of these reactions.
Skin redness and irritation may develop if you apply nettle topically or accidentally touch the above-ground parts of the plant before they have been dried or otherwise treated.
Stick to commonly recommended dosages for this herb.
Don't stop taking a prescription medication and start taking nettle root for prostate problems without discussing the change with your doctor.
If you have diabetes, consult your doctor about taking nettle; recent animal studies indicate that the herb may increase blood sugar levels, not decrease them as suggested previously.
Don't take nettle if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Consult your doctor before taking nettle leaf for swelling or other fluid retention associated with such potentially serious disorders as impaired heart or kidney function. Ailments Dosage
Allergies 250-500 mg nettle leaf extract 3 times a day
Prostate Problems 250-300 mg nettle root extract twice a day or 30-45 drops liquid extract twice a day
Urinary Tract Infections 1 cup nettle leaf tea several times a day