STINGING NETTLE (Urtica dioica)

Latin: Urtica dioica                      photos
Sanskrit: Vrishchikali

WHAT IT DOES: Stinging nettle leaf is bitter in taste and cooling in action.  It cleanses the blood.  Nettle seed nourishes and removes toxins from the kidneys.

RATING: Yellow, due to strong action

SAFETY ISSUES: Do not touch or ingest fresh plant.

• Dried leaf powder: two grams two to three times per day as an infusion (10-15 minutes)
• 1:5 leaf tincture: 20-40 drops two to five times per day
• Standardized leaf extract: 250-350 mg.  two times per day.
• 1:5 seed tincture: 20-40 drops two to five times per day

Stinging nettle is well known for its poisonous hairs that contain formic acid and histamine.  Both of these chemicals can cause severe stinging and inflammation upon contact.  Consequently, it makes sense that rest of the plant contains a number of materials that protect its interior structures from its own poisons.  Scientific studies show that stinging nettle has a number of very interesting, wide-ranging and unique compounds which block inflammation.  This herb is a good example of how different parts and preparations of the same plant can have quite different actions and uses.

Herbalist David Winston reported in 1999 that he had successfully used nettle seed to reduce creatinine levels in six cases of severely diminished kidney function, including glomerulonephritis and other degenerative kidney diseases.  He believes this seed is a kidney “food,” useful for treating severely diminished kidney function, glomerulonephritis, and other degenerative kidney diseases.  Following his lead, I was able to stabilize a severe case using this preparation.  Thanks to nettle seed, the patient showed marked and completely unextected improvement in creatinine levels (a marker for disease progression).  The general improvement stopped after two years, and she began to slowly decline, but at a much slower rate than normal for this stage, apparently buying a few precious years for this elderly woman.

Nephritis is a debilitating and very expensive disease to treat.  A group of doctors from Washington contacted me looking for natural medicine treatments and I referred them to David.  A study is currently underway.  If the results are positive, nettle seed will prove to be a very important herbal medicine.

Cultures in many different parts of the world prepare the tender parts of stinging nettle by cooking them as vegetables.  The dried form of nettle leaf is prepared as a tonic useful for nourishing the blood, and can be used to treat anemia.  Both Western and TAM herbalists use it for this same purpose.

Stinging nettle leaf is traditionally used to cleanse the blood by removing toxins.  It can be a beneficial treatment for eczema, particularly in children.  It can also be used to treat lower back pain caused by chronic low-grade infection—it is best prepared as an infusion for this purpose.  Nettle leaf can also be used to reduce prostate swelling, and is included in several commercial prostate formulas for this reason.

Research Highlights

• Nettle leaf extracts reduce inflammation, in part, by suppressing the release of inflammatory cytokines.  They do this by blocking a chemical inducer known as NF-KappaB, which alters gene expresion.  This may be one explanation for the beneficial efffects this herb has exhibited in rheumatoid arthritis (Riehemann et al., 1999).

• One set of in vitro experiments on live blood using extracts of stinging nettle leaf exhibited its ability to slow down the inflammatory cytokine response caused by endotoxins.  In the same experiments, when there was no endotoxin present, the nettle leaf actually stimulated an immune response.  Researchers believed these results could explain the positive effects of this extract in the treatment of rheumatic diseases (Obertreis B et al., 1996).

• The herb has also been indicated as a treatment for prostate diseases.  Lignans obtained from stinging nettle roots attach to and alter prostate membranes (Schottner et al., 1997).  This in turn leads to less prostate tissue stimulation, and a reduction in prostate swelling (Lichius et al., 1997).

• Stinging nettle is an approved medicine for the treatment of prostate diseases in Germany (Vahlensieck, Jr et al., 1996).

• Nettle leaf contains a lectin called UDA that has been shown to stimulate the production of a protein-digesting enzyme called gelatinase B.  Low levels of UDA concentration reduce sticky proteins in the blood and reduce inflammation, but high levels can cause shock.  Researchers from the Pasteur Institute have said that UDA “is an unusual plant lectin that differs from all other known plant lectins .  .  [due to] its ability to discriminate a particular population of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells .  .” Such unique and extremely specific actions are beginning to give herbalists and physicians new tools for fine tuning the immune system, and may play important roles in development of therapies against very serious diseases (Galelli et al., 1993).  Other plants that share this action include bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) and meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale), both of which exhibit some toxicity (Dubois et al., 1998).