What Is Stinging Nettle?
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a perennial, flowering, stalk-like plant that is found in the United States, Canada, Asia, and Europe. Its medicinal history goes back to medieval Europe when it was used as a diuretic and to relieve joint pain.
The plant has fine hairs on its heart-shaped leaves and stems that are irritating to the skin. Interestingly, although the hairs of stinging nettle are usually painful to the touch, when placed over a painful area of the body they serve to reduce pain, either by decreasing inflammatory chemicals or by interfering with the transmission of pain signals.
Indications for Use of Stinging Nettle
Historically, stinging nettle has been used to treat muscle pain, joint pain, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. It is also now used to treat urinary problems associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia, urinary tract infections, hay fever, tendinitis, insect bites and more.
Studies have shown that the extract of the stinging nettle leaf suppresses cytokines associated with inflammatory joint disease. Aside from pain-relieving properties, stinging nettle has also been shown to have anti-bacterial and anti-ulcer effects.
Availability of Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is available in several formulations including tea, capsule, tincture, extract, or whole leaf. Recommended dosage for capsule form is up to 1,300 mg/daily. If drinking tea with stinging nettle, one cup/3 times daily is recommended. As a tincture, 1 to 4 ml/3 times daily is recommended. Extract from the root or extract from the leaf can be applied 3 times daily. Or, the whole leaf can be applied directly to the painful area of the skin.
Precautions and Warnings for Stinging Nettle
Herbs can interact with other drugs and supplements to trigger undesirable side effects. For this reason, you should only use stinging nettle with the advice and supervision of your doctor. Generally, stinging nettle is considered safe when used as directed but stomach upset, fluid retention, hives, and rash are a few of the side effects that have been reported.
Stinging nettle should not be used by pregnant women. Another important warning: It should never be applied to an open wound.
Stinging nettle may interfere with blood-thinning medications, high blood pressure medications, diuretics, drugs used to treat diabetes, and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Stinging nettle has been shown to enhance to anti-inflammatory effect of NSAIDs. Consult with your doctor before using stinging nettle, especially if you already take an NSAID.
Stinging Nettle. Complementary Medicine. University of Maryland Medical Center. 6/13/2007.
Stinging Nettle. Arthritis Today Supplement Guide. Arthritis Foundation. 7/18/2007.