Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has been a staple in herbal medicine since ancient times.
Ancient Egyptians used stinging nettle to treat arthritis and lower back pain, while Roman troops rubbed it on themselves to help stay warm.
Its scientific name, Urtica dioica, comes from the Latin word uro, which means “to burn,” because its leaves can cause a temporary burning sensation upon contact.
The leaves have hair-like structures that sting and also produce itching, redness, and swelling.
However, once it is processed into a supplement, dried, freeze-dried, or cooked, stinging nettle can be safely consumed. Studies link it to a number of potential health benefits.
Here are 6 evidence-based benefits of stinging nettle.
1. CONTAINS MANY NUTRIENTS
Stinging nettle’s leaves and roots provide a wide variety of nutrients, including:
- Vitamins: Vitamins A, C, and K, as well as several B vitamins
- Minerals: Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium
- Fats: Linoleic acid, linolenic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and oleic acid
- Amino acids: All of the essential amino acids
- Polyphenols: Kaempferol, quercetin, caffeic acid, coumarins and other flavonoids
- Pigments: Beta-carotene, lutein, luteoxanthin, and other carotenoids
What’s more, many of these nutrients act as antioxidants inside your body.
Antioxidants are molecules that help defend your cells against damage from free radicals. Damage caused by free radicals is linked to aging, as well as cancer and other harmful diseases.
Studies indicate that stinging nettle extract can raise blood antioxidant levels
2. MAY REDUCE INFLAMMATION
Inflammation is your body’s way of healing itself and fighting infections.
However, chronic inflammation can inflict significant harm.
Stinging nettle harbors a variety of compounds that may reduce inflammation.
In animal and test-tube studies, stinging nettle reduced levels of multiple inflammatory hormones by interfering with their production.
In human studies, applying a stinging nettle cream or consuming stinging nettle products appears to relieve inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
For instance, in one 27-person study, applying a stinging nettle cream onto arthritis-affected areas significantly reduced pain, compared to placebo treatment.
In another study, taking a supplement that contained stinging nettle extract significantly reduced arthritis pain. Additionally, participants felt they could reduce their dose of anti-inflammatory pain relievers because of this capsule.
That said, research is insufficient to recommend stinging nettle as an anti-inflammatory treatment. More human studies are needed.
3. MAY TREAT ENLARGED PROSTATE SYMPTOMS
Up to 50% of men aged 51 and older have an enlarged prostate gland.
An enlarged prostate is commonly called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Scientists aren’t sure what causes BPH, but it can lead to significant discomfort during urination.
Interestingly, a few studies suggest that stinging nettle may help treat BPH.
Animal research reveals that this powerful plant may prevent the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone — a more powerful form of testosterone.
Stopping this conversion can help reduce prostate size.
Studies in people with BPH demonstrate that stinging nettle extracts help treat short- and long-term urination problems — without side effects.
However, it’s unclear how effective stinging nettle is compared to conventional treatments.
4. MAY TREAT HAY FEVER
Hay fever is an allergy that involves inflammation in the lining of your nose.
Stinging nettle is viewed as a promising natural treatment for hay fever.
Test-tube research shows that stinging nettle extracts can inhibit inflammation that can trigger seasonal allergies.
This includes blocking histamine receptors and stopping immune cells from releasing chemicals that trigger allergy symptoms.
However, human studies note that stinging nettle is equal to or only slightly better at treating hay fever than a placebo.
While this plant may prove a promising natural remedy for hay fever symptoms, more long-term human studies are needed.
5. MAY LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE
Approximately one in three American adults have high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is a serious health concern because it puts you at risk of heart disease and strokes, which are among the leading causes of death worldwide.
Stinging nettle was traditionally used to treat high blood pressure.
Animal and test-tube studies illustrate that it may help lower blood pressure in several ways.
For one, it may stimulate nitric oxide production, which acts as a vasodilator. Vasodilators relax the muscles of your blood vessels, helping them widen.
In addition, stinging nettle has compounds that may act as calcium channel blockers, which relax your heart by reducing the force of contractions.
In animal studies, stinging nettle has been shown to lower blood pressure levels while raising the heart’s antioxidant defenses.
However, stinging nettle’s effects on blood pressure in humans are still unclear. Additional human studies are needed before recommendations can be made.
6. MAY AID BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL
Both human and animal studies link stinging nettle to lower blood sugar levels.
In fact, this plant contains compounds that may mimic the effects of insulin.
In a three-month study in 46 people, taking 500 mg of stinging nettle extract three times daily significantly lowered blood sugar levels compared to a placebo.
Despite promising findings, there are still far too few human studies on stinging nettle and blood sugar control. More research is necessary.
OTHER POTENTIAL BENEFITS
Stinging nettle may offer other potential health benefits, including:
- Reduced bleeding: Medicines containing stinging nettle extract have been found to reduce excessive bleeding, especially after surgery.
- Liver health: Nettle’s antioxidant properties may protect your liver against damage by toxins, heavy metals, and inflammation.
- Natural diuretic: This plant may help your body shed excess salt and water, which in turn could lower blood pressure temporarily. Keep in mind that these findings are from animal studies.
- Wound and burn healing: Applying stinging nettle creams may support wound healing, including burn wounds.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS
Consuming dried or cooked stinging nettle is generally safe. There are few, if any, side effects.
However, be careful when handling fresh stinging nettle leaves, as their hair-like barbs can harm your skin.
These barbs can inject an array of chemicals, such as:
- Formic acid
These compounds can cause rashes, bumps, hives, and itchiness.
In rare cases, people may have a severe allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening.
However, these chemicals diminish as the leaves are processed, meaning that you shouldn’t experience mouth or stomach irritation when eating dried or cooked stinging nettle.
Pregnant women should avoid consuming stinging nettle because it may trigger uterine contractions, which can raise the risk of a miscarriage.
Speak to your doctor before consuming stinging nettle if you’re taking one of the following:
- Blood thinners
- Blood pressure medication
- Diuretics (water pills)
- Diabetes medication
Stinging nettle could interact with these medications. For instance, the plant’s potential diuretic effect may strengthen the impact of diuretics, which can raise your risk of dehydration.
HOW TO CONSUME IT
Stinging nettle is incredibly easy to add to your daily routine.
It can be purchased in many health food stores, but you can also grow it yourself.
You can buy dried/freeze-dried leaves, capsules, tinctures, and creams. Stinging nettle ointments are often used to ease osteoarthritis symptoms.
The dried leaves and flowers can be steeped to make a delicious herbal tea, while its leaves, stem, and roots can be cooked and added to soups, stews, smoothies, and stir-frys. However, avoid eating fresh leaves, as their barbs can cause irritation.
Currently, there is no recommended dosage for stinging nettle products.
That said, studies suggest that the following doses are most effective for certain conditions:
- Enlarged prostate gland: 360 mg of root extract per day
- Allergies: 600 mg of freeze-dried leaves per day
If you buy a stinging nettle supplement, it’s best to speak to your doctor before trying it and to follow the instructions that come with it.