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Nettle is one of my favorite herbs. Also called “stinging nettle,” it is packed with nutrients and is even one of the ingredients in my homemade pregnancy tea. Stinging nettle benefits go far beyond pregnancy though.
What Is Nettle?
Nettle (Urtica dioica) is also known as stinging nettle, common nettle, and garden nettle. It is originally from northern Europe and northern Asia.
The nettle plant is herbaceous with fine hairs on the leaves and stems that contain a chemical. This chemical causes skin irritation and pain when it comes into contact with the skin — thus the name “stinging nettle.” If you’ve ever been out weeding the yard or searching for wildflowers, you’ve probably discovered this on your own!
When cooked or otherwise processed, nettle no longer causes this rash. (Good news… you can also just buy it and skip the stinging all together!)
Nettle has been used in traditional medicine to support:
- hair and scalp
- mental health
- women’s health
- men’s health
- pain relief
- seasonal allergies
- aches and pains
- elimination and detoxification (liver, digestion, urinary)
Not all of these traditional uses have been studied, but there is a wealth of long-standing anecdotal evidence.
Health Benefits of Stinging Nettle
I love to keep stinging nettle leaves on hand since it has so many health benefits to the body:
Nettle contains antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that support the body, such as:
- Vitamin A
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
What I find most interesting is that nettle contains fats and amino acids (almost unheard of in a plant)! This makes it a revered survival food. It’s a great tea for camping or backpacking trips, especially if you forage it yourself.
Stinging nettle has anti-inflammatory properties which can help alleviate pain. Some 2013 research shows that there are many plant foods that are anti-inflammatory, including nettle. Researchers caution that more research is needed, but this preliminary research seems to support how nettle has been used traditionally.
Another 2013 study demonstrates that nettle has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties due to its wide range of phytochemicals.
I’ve had a good experience using dried nettle in a cream or poultice for lower back pain and other minor joint pain.
Metabolic issues (heart, blood sugar, thyroid, etc.) are increasingly common today. According to research, nettle may be helpful in supporting metabolic health. A 2013 study published in Clinical Laboratory found that patients with Type 2 diabetes saw improvement in their blood sugar after using stinging nettle extract for three months.
The above study didn’t note why nettle could have this effect on the body, but another 2013 study does. According to this study published in Phytotherapy Research, nettle may mimic insulin.
The heart is another important part of metabolic processes in the body. Research shows that nettle can have a vasorelaxant effect. That means nettle can help reduce tension in the heart muscle and reduce high blood pressure.
Additionally, nettle is helpful in supporting the pancreas, according to a 2014 study in rats. Researchers found a “statistically significant” difference between the rats in the control group and the ones who were given nettle.
Traditionally, nettle is used topically on wounds and it looks like science backs this up. Nettle demonstrated strong antimicrobial activity against a wide spectrum of bacteria according to a 2018 review.
Keep in mind that nettle should be processed before applying to a wound to avoid its famous sting! I use dried nettle infused into an oil (olive oil works well) either directly on the skin or in recipes. You can also make a nettle tincture (but use the dried herb).
There isn’t a lot of scientific data on how nettle can help women’s health. But since nettle is so high in a variety of nutrients, it makes sense that it has been long used in pregnancy tea to help support pregnancy nutritionally. I personally use it this way and have had a great experience.
Nettle has also been used traditionally to support milk supply (probably for the same nutritive reason) making it a common women’s health herb.
However, there is some controversy about its use during pregnancy as some herbalists believe it can stimulate contractions. I tend to agree with Aviva Romm’s view to avoid herbs in the first trimester and then use herbs that are shown to be safe scientifically or historically (like nettle).
As always check with your healthcare provider to figure out what’s right for you.
Nettle can also help with prostate health. It’s widely used in Europe for enlarged prostate — benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It helps with the symptoms such as reduced urinary flow, incomplete emptying of the bladder, and post urination dripping. It doesn’t affect the size of the prostate though. Because of this finding, researchers are unsure how nettle helps, according to Penn State Hershey.
Additionally, nettle may be a promising help for prostate cancer. A 2000 study found stinging nettle root extract can help keep prostate cancer from spreading. More research is needed to study this effect, but the results are promising.
Hair and Scalp Health
One of nettle’s most famous uses is in supporting hair and scalp health. It’s thought that the appearance of an herb gives an indication as to how it can be useful to the body. In this case, the fine hairs on nettle indicate that it is great for hair and scalp!
Whether or not this old wives’ tale is true, there does seem to be some truth to nettle’s place in hair and scalp support. One study published in 2011 found that hair loss and thinning hair are often caused by the damage of inflammation on the hair follicle. Since nettle has anti-inflammatory properties, it can help reduce the inflammation that is causing hair loss and hair follicle damage.
Additionally, a study published in 2017 found that nettle can improve scalp circulation and hair growth. It also concludes that nettle can “help prevent hair from falling out.” Compounds in nettle help block the overproduction of testosterone which can cause hair loss problems. These same compounds can help boost production of a protein that stimulates hair growth.
This is why I made sure to include nettle as an ingredient in my line of shampoo and conditioner.
Nettle is often used to help with hay fever and other mild allergies. Researchers found that nettle worked better than a placebo for people suffering from allergic rhinitis (hay fever).
A more recent study published in 2009 found that this is likely due to nettle affecting key receptors and enzymes associated with allergies. In other words, it may act as an antihistamine. Nettle is one of my go-to herbs for hay fever and seasonal allergies.
How to Use Stinging Nettle
There are many ways to use nettle at home. Yes, nettle will sting the skin if touched, but processed nettle by drying or cooking poses no issue.
Here are some ways I use it:
- Culinary – Because nettle contains many nutrients, it’s a great addition to a meal. You can use it dried or cook it and add it to a recipe you would add other greens to (don’t eat it raw). I like to add it to smoothies or meatloaf for added nutrients.
- Multivitamin – Some people even consider nettle tea a form of a daily vitamin. Add nettle to another tea blend or brew it on its own for a daily infusion of nutrients.
- Cold and Flu Support – I will drink nettle tea for its nutrients during an illness since eating can be difficult.
- First Aid – Dried nettle can be used as a poultice for small wounds to help fight infection.
- Inflammatory Pain – For issues like arthritis and joint pain, herbalists recommend using fresh stinging nettle on the skin near the pain. The stinging is thought to help relieve the pain of arthritis. This may not sound like fun to most of us, but it seems to work!
- Hair Care – You can infuse water or vinegar with nettle to use as a hair rinse. I include nettle in my homemade herbal hair rinse and it’s also in my brand new line of hair care products.
- Allergies and Allergic Reactions – Consume nettle tea or tincture daily for 2-3 months before allergy season to avoid allergies. I also use capsules for acute relief of allergy symptoms. Nettle is also helpful for poison ivy since nettle acts as an antihistamine.
- Overall Health – If you want to use nettle for women’s health, prostate health or some of its other uses, start with a nettle tea or tincture. You can also take capsules or make dried nettle into electuaries (like cough drops).
Stinging Nettle Safety and Side Effects
Stinging nettle is generally considered safe for use. But as mentioned earlier, a few herbalists disagree with nettle use during pregnancy. Herbalist Michael Moore in his book Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West notes that fresh nettle should be avoided by pregnant women as it may cause “uterine excitation.” It’s unclear if dried would be safe.
I’ve used it in all of my pregnancies and have been happy with it, but you must do your own research. It’s always a good idea to check with your midwife or doctor to see if nettle is safe for you.
If you are on medications, other supplements, or have a medical condition, it’s best to check with your health care practitioner before using stinging nettle. There may be some interactions for those on medications for heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, or if you’re taking blood thinners.
Where to Get Stinging Nettle
Nettle is available in both root and leaf form, and even a powdered version of the leaf which I add to my veggie smoothies. Here are some of my favorite preparations of nettle:
- Bulk loose dried leaves for making tea or tinctures
- In tea bags
- As a premade tincture
- In a capsule
- In a salve
- For hair – in Wellnesse shampoo and conditioner
If you’re brave enough to handle the sting, you can also try to harvest it yourself (just make sure you are 100% sure of any herb before eating).
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Betsy Greenleaf, the first board-certified female urogynecologist in the United States. She is double board-certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you use stinging nettle? How has it helped?
Discussion (88 Comments)
Thanks for the article 🙂
Stinging Nettle is amazing and has literally transformed my life. I drink a quart (litre) of Stinging Nettle infusion every single day and it makes me I feel so alive!
After 3.5 months of drinking the Nettle infusion daily, my gray hair is starting to turn brown. Friends have been accusing me of dying my hair :-)…they don’t believe it’s because of the “strange tea” I have been drinking. My wife thinks it’s “wierd”, but can’t believe how good my hair looks. I also rub Stinging Nettle tincture into my scalp every morning, let it sit for 15 minutes, then wash it off. My hair is growing back fuller and shinier. I would highly recommend this regimen for any one who has thin hair or low energy levels.
I buy the Nettle leaf in 2.2lbs (1kg) bags online which works out about $1 per quart (litre). The Stinging Nettle tincture costs about $50 for 500ml which lasts about 50 days. So in total it costs me about $1.50 a day for hair regrowth, less gray and LOADS of energy. I don’t need to take any other supplements.
Please check dietary triggers. If you eliminate those (from baby’s diet and yours if you are breastfeeding), the “allergy bucket” can decrease so there isn’t as much sensitivity to outdoor triggers. And if a rash develops, please continue trying to find natural remedies and stay away from steroid creams. My son got many side effects from these and I now know there are so many other options that are so much safer… in part by reading blogs like these 😉 and starting to work with our own naturopath. Good luck! Have you done a saline rinse before bed for your little one?
Is it safe to give an infant nettle tea or add the herb into their food to help with seasonal allergies?
My son is 7 months old and having bad seasonal allergies. He’s highly allergic to pollen (and Moderately allergic to many other things) we found out from our natura path.
I have tried nettle capsules several times, but each time I had significant itching on the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet. Nettle sounds so healthy, and I would love to be able to eat the soup. I was wondering if I would have the same reaction to cooked nettle in soups or not. Has anyone else had this reaction to nettle capsules?
I just gave my son some nettle leaf tincture, hoping it would help with minor itch on his feet. Instead, he was itchier than ever!!! ALL over his body! Nettle leaf tincture at 4pm was the ONLY thing I did differently. Anyone else with this experience?
I would recommend Stinging Nettle infusions instead of capsules. A lot of more effective, in my experience. The only “adverse” side effects I have seen and experienced have been temporary detox symptoms.
Not sure about what this is about long term use. I drink around 3 cups a day (Saturday and Sunday I usually don’t though) of tea from the above ground parts and don’t have any side effects. I’ve been doing this for almost two years.
Must be about the capsules. Not a big fan of capsules. Besides, the tea tastes great. Love the taste of straight up Nettle tea.
I need help please. I have been drinking 3 cups a day but I think it’s making me detox.
I have severe lower backache, leg and bum pains. I also had migraines for two days. Could I be detoxing or is it something else.
Currently I have slight headaches that come and go. All the symptoms are similar to a heavy detox.
I can’t believe that it is so strong. I am on no special diet, I eat healthy but I still have coffee with sugar and a sweet at night so I didn’t thinking could detox so crazy.
Should I go see my naturopath? Or should I cut back on the tea. I have had this pain since Saturday last week
Yes Stinging Nettles will detox your body, that’s for sure.
I have met a few people who stopped taking Nettles after a couple of days thinking they were allergic to the herb, when in fact they were simply experiencing detox. The Nettles detox symptoms should only last 14 days at the most. How long of course will all depend on how unhealthy your system is.
I certainly experienced class detox symptoms, pulsing headaches (directly behind my right eye) and serious lower back aches (kidneys) for the first week. It was a killer 🙂 But these eventually subsided and disappeared and that’s when I started to be cured of my long term ailments i.e. GERD, IBS, fungus under nails etc.
What’s happening is the nutrients in the Nettles are dislodging the toxins from your cells and thus your vital organs are left having to flush them out – which usually brings with it … pain!
But the long term advantages are well worth it. I will never stop drinking Nettle infusion!!
Oh my goodness! I’m having the severe lower back pain as well and it feels like my kidneys. So it seems by body is detoxing. I’m glad I read this. Thank you so much.
This could be the heavy bleeding effect for menses. I know my periods can be very heavy during cycles I did more detox.
Oh my, I’m having the same issues which started the day after I began taking nettles root and leaves. The migraines are about to floor me; but if it’s detoxing, I’ll hang in there. (Come to think of it, I react the same way to green tea.) I can tell that it’s helping with my allergies. I stopped taking allergy meds a couple of weeks ago after reading about anticholinergic drug issues. Within a couple of days, I was constantly coughing and sneezing. That stopped on day two after beginning nettles.
Will this be good for indoor allergies to dust mites??
Because the power of nettles is found in it’s histamines that are taken internally, it is of use whenever an anti-histamine is needed. It may seem odd but it is aiding in the immune response. Give it a try, but in a fresh tincture or freeze dried capsule form.
I think what the author of this article means by not taking it every day, is that any herb (or food) when taken daily can have an adverse effect on the body by upsetting the balance and medicinally for allergies for too long may disrupt your own immune response. Because we are so used to the way pharmaceuticals work, it may seem counter intuitive to take an herb that works with the body, sometimes with no immediate results. Also, the vitamins in nettle can stress the kidneys or cause another idiosyncratic reaction.
firstly to your question…
“Will this be good for indoor allergies to dust mites??”
Absolutely. Stinging Nettle infusion is an excellent way to boost your immune system.
I just wanted to comment on Bonnie’s response to you…
(Bonnie quote) “the power of nettles is found in it’s histamines that are taken internally, it is of use whenever an anti-histamine is needed.”
(My response) This is entirely incorrect. Researchers have found Stinging Nettle’s anti-histamine properties are related they to the Nettle’s ability to reduce the amount of histamine the body produces in response to an allergen.
(Bonnie quote) “any herb (or food) when taken daily can have an adverse effect on the body by upsetting the balance and medicinally for allergies for too long may disrupt your own immune response.”
(My response) There is no scientific basis for this statement. Organic plant food eaten daily will not unbalance the immune system. Stinging Nettles is not like Horsetail which should be only used short term. Nettles can be treated as a highly nutritious food. Any competent herbalist will advise that consuming Nettles daily is beneficial to the body.
(Bonnie quote) “Also, the vitamins in nettle can stress the kidneys or cause another idiosyncratic reaction.”
There is no scientific basis to support this claim.
Hi! If I want to use nettle for my thin, quite oily and somewhat dandruff hair- would I take it in a tea form? Take a capsule? Put it in my hair? Or a mix of all? What doses? Other trusted brands I can find locally?
Hello. I was wondering on the dosage for my 9 year old son for allergies. I bought Frontier stinging nettle. Could I do the tea for him or would you recommend capsules? He is used to herbs as he has been taking them for over three years but I have not used this particular one. Thanks!!
I would like to start taking Stinging Nettles for my terrible allergies. I too am concerned with your warning of long term use. I see mention of this in regards to the capsule. In what form would one take it for allergies? alopecia?
The capsule? the root? the leaf? leaf extract? So many choices!
I just received a pound of Nettle Leaf (botanical). It states External Use Only. I contacted the seller and they stated they do not have Food Grade Certification on it. Is it different from the type that is safe to use internally or are they just being cautious?