Nettle: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information on nettle

Urtica dioica is a dioecious herbaceous perennial of the Urticaceae family, 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow as are the roots. The soft green leaves are 3 to 15 cm (1 to 6 in) long and are borne oppositely on an erect wiry green stem. They have a strongly serrated margin, with a cordate base and an acuminate tip with a terminal leaf tooth longer than adjacent laterals. It bears small greenish or brownish numerous flowers in dense axillary inflorescences. The leaves and stems are very hairy with non-stinging hairs and in most subspecies also bear many stinging hairs (trichomes), whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that will inject several chemical irritants.

common names & nomenclature
The common name stinging nettle is in reference to the irritants that the needle-like hairs of the plant inject into your skin upon contact.

Also known as:
nettle, stinging nettle, devil's claw, devil's plaything, burn nettle, burn hazel, burn weed

Nettle, the spring tonic and seasoning
Nettle: Where in the World
habitat and range for nettle

Urtica dioica is native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America.

Nettle: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting nettle

Nettles grow in partly shaded temperate regions in meadows, forest edges, waste spaces and cultivated beds.

Nettle prefers a moist, rich soil.

Sow seeds in spring in a cold frame, only just covering the seed. Transplant the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle, and plant them out in the summer. Division succeeds at almost any time in the growing season, plant divisions straight out into their permanent locations.

Harvest the whole plant during the middle or at the end of the growing season. Hang the plants upside-down to dry and cut the dried parts up for later use.

Store dried nettle in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Nettle: The Rest of the Story
nettle history, folklore, literature & more

Nettle was used in weaving before it became popular in herbal healing. Archeologists have discovered nettle-fabric burial shrouds at Bronze Age sites in Denmark. In Les Miserables, one of Victor Hugo's characters calls nettle fabric as strong as canvas. And during World War I, when cotton was in short supply in Germany, nettle cloth was substituted.

Its use in healing also harkens back to the ancient world. Around the third century B.C., Hippocrates' Greek contemporaries prescribed nettle juice externally to treat snakebites and scorpion stings and internally as an antidote to such plant poisons as hemlock and henbane.

Roman soldiers flailed themselves with nettles in cold climates because the herb's sting warmed their skin. This practice, called urtication, evolved into a treatment still used today for the joint stiffness of arthritis and the intense joint pains of gout.

Early European herbalists touted nettle tea to treat cough and tuberculosis, and strange as this sounds today, the herb was smoked to treat asthma. Herbalists also prescribed nettle to treat scurvy and stop bleeding, particularly nosebleeds. Somewhere along the way, nettle juice gained a reputation as a hair growth stimulant, and it remained an ingredient in hair-growth nostrums well into the 19th century.

Seventeenth-century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper endorsed all the nettle prescriptions which preceded him, and added some of his own: "The decoction of the leaves in wine is singularly good to provoke women's courses (menstruation)".

American Indian women believed drinking nettle tea during pregnancy strengthened the fetus and eased delivery. They also used it to stop uterine bleeding after childbirth. Early settlers adopted this use, and nursing mothers also used nettle to increase their milk production.

Nettle won't grow hair, boost milk production, or guarantee easy childbirth, but science lends some support to a few of its age-old uses.

GOUT: Some German researchers have shown nettle juice and infusion help relieve the pain of gout. According to medical herbalist Rudolph Fritz Weiss, M.D., the effect "is not very powerful, but long-term use may give definite clinical results."

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: Nettle also has some diuretic action. In Germany, where herbal medicine is more mainstream than it is in the United States, physicians prescribe nettle in the treatment of high blood pressure. Dr. Weiss writes: "Nettle juice is definitely useful in diuretic therapy. It has the advantage of being well tolerated and safe, as distinct from the pharmaceutical thiazides now so widely used. High blood pressure is a serious condition requiring professional care. If you'd like to include nettle in your overall treatment plan, do so only with the supervision of your physician.

Nettle may be safer than thiazides, but diuretics deplete the body of potassium, an essential nutrient. If you use nettle frequently, be sure to eat foods high in potassium, such as bananas and fresh vegetables. Pregnant and nursing women should avoid diuretics.