Urtica dioica, often called common nettle or stinging nettle (although not all plants of this species sting), is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America, and is the best-known member of the nettle genus Urtica. The species is divided into six subspecies, five of which have many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals. The plant has a long history of use as a medicine, as a food source and as a source of fiber.
The whole plant is anti-asthmatic, anti dandruff, astringent, depurative, diuretic, galactogogue, haemostatic, hypoglycemic and a stimulating tonic. An infusion of the plant is very valuable in stemming internal bleeding, it is also used to treat anaemia, excessive menstruation, haemorrhoids, arthritis, rheumatism and skin complaints, especially eczema. Externally, the plant is used to treat skin complaints, arthritic pain, gout, sciatica, neuralgia, haemorrhoids, hair problems etc. The fresh leaves of nettles have been rubbed or beaten onto the skin in the treatment of rheumatism. The root has been shown to have a beneficial effect upon enlarged prostate glands.
Nettle is a common botanical, native to Africa and western Asia. It has since become naturalized across the globe and can be found wild in many parts of the world. It grows in temperate climates, preferring shady regions with moist soil. Stinging hairs cover the live plant, helping to protect it from predation. When touched, the hairs cause stinging welts due to the content of formic acid. While the stings can be painful, they don’t last long and rarely cause serious harm.
After being picked, the acid deteriorates quickly and the stinging hairs begin losing potency within minutes. The harvested leaves are a favorite source of medicine and have also been used for centuries for food and fabric. The healing powers of nettle are well steeped in the folklore and traditions of various cultures. In one fairytale, The Wild Swans, the heroine is tasked with weaving shirts of nettle leaf in order to cure her eleven brothers who have been turned into swans by their evil stepmother.
People have used nettle in the production of clothing for thousands of years. According to The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood, archeologists in China discovered perfectly preserved nettle clothing aging over 2000 years. Since then, nettle fiber has been used to make rope, and was notably used by the Germans in World War 2 for the manufacture of their uniforms.
Nettle greens can be steamed for a delicious leafy vegetable with a flavor that is often compared to spinach. The leaves are a wonderful source of nutrients, containing a number of essential minerals including iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Nettle is approved by the German Commission E for internal and external use in the support of inflammation. For its diuretic properties, it is approved for support of the lower urinary tract.
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