There are a lot of plants that people consider harmful. These plants are usually the ones that create an itchy rash or cause a stingy pain. Generally, people get rid of these plants or avoid them at all costs; however, while coming into contact with these plants may create an undesirable experience, sometimes – depending on the plant – touching it isn’t a bad thing; rather, it’s actually a good thing.
One of these plants is the stinging nettle.
Though you may be left with a bit of discomfort after touching a stinging nettle and use some colorful language when you come into contact with it, it’s actually a beneficial plant. From easing allergies to improving the bone health, the stinging nettle offers a myriad of benefits and has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries.
What exactly is the stinging nettle and how is it beneficial? Let’s have a look.
What is the Stinging Nettle Plant?
A perennial flowering plant, stinging nettle (scientific name: urtica diocia) has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries. In fact, the use of this plant of medicinal purposes dates back to Ancient Greece.
Originally, this plant hailed from the cold regions of Europe and Asia, but today, it is found around the globe. This plant, which usually grows between 2 and 4 feet and has heart-shaped leaves, blooms between June and September. The flowers it produces are pink or yellow in color. It’s optimal growth conditions is soil that is rich in nitrogen.
The leaves and stems of the stinging nettle are covered in fine hairs, which are responsible for creating the stinging feeling that this plant has become synonymous with. However, when the leaves, stems and roots are processed, they offer a number of medicinal benefits. Different parts of the plant offer different benefits, which include:
- Stems and leaves – Relieve allergy symptoms and breathing issues
- Roots – Relieve issues with the urinary tract and can ease an enlarged prostate
Why Does the Stinging Nettle Sting?
This plant is comprised of several different chemicals, including histamine, serotonin and acetylcholine. These chemicals are located at the base of the hairs on the plant and they are responsible for creating the stinging feeling.
When the plant is touch, the tips of the hairs, which are very fragile, break off and act as a needle that delivers the irritating chemicals into the skin. The reaction of the stinging nettle varies from person to person, but typically causes redness, swelling, pain, itching and even numbness.
The Benefits of the Stinging Nettle
Though it has developed a reputation for causing pain, the stinging nettle is actually quite useful. Research has found that it offers antimicrobial, antioxidant, astringent, anti-ulcer and analgesic benefits. It commonly used for sore muscles and joints, as well as arthritis, eczema, gout and anemia. In modern society, the stinging nettle is primarily used to for issues with the urinary tract, joint pain and allergies.
The most notable potential health benefits of stinging nettle include:
- Joint Pain and Osteoarthritis: Those who suffer from osteoarthritis experience pain in their joints, specifically in their hands, hips, knees and spine. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are typically used to treat the effects of osteoarthritis; however, research has shown that stinging nettle can decrease the need to rely on NSAIDs, which makes using the herb in conjunction with these medications a wise idea. Studies have found that applying nettle leaf topically to the site of pain actually can significantly decrease joint pain, which may be helpful for people with arthritis. Additionally, studies have found that the anti-inflammatory effect of nettle might be helpful with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) and Urinary Tract Issues: The symptoms of BPH include an increased sense of urgency to urinate, not fully empting the bladder, pain while urinating and slower urinary flow. These symptoms are the effect of an enlarged prostate, which presses up on the urethra. Stinging nettle has been found to reduce the symptoms of BPH. Though the reason is unclear, studies suggest that the plant contains chemicals that impact the hormones that cause the condition. Additionally, stinging nettle is often used for bladder infections.
- Hay Fever: The uncomfortable side effects of allergies often include congestion, itching, watery eyes, a runny nose and sneezing. Stinging nettle offers anti-inflammatory properties, which affect the receptors and enzymes that cause allergic reactions. As a result, this plant is often used to alleviate the symptoms of hay fever.
- Eczema: A condition of the skin, eczema cause dry, itchy patches on the skin. Thanks to the antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties of stinging nettle, the plant is can be used to successfully help with the symptoms of this skin condition. It can either be taken orally, or it can be applied topically to provide eczema relief.
- Bleeding: Products that contain stinging nettle have been found to reduce bleed during surgeries when they are applied to the skin. Ankaferd blood stopper is one of the most notable blood stopping products. It is made up of a combination of stinging nettle, licorice, alpinia, thyme and grape vine. These ingredients work in conjunction with each other to stop bleeding.
How Stinging Nettle can be Used
There are several ways that stinging nettle can be used. Some of the most common applications include:
- Brewing it to create a healthful tea
- Cooking the leaves and consuming them
- Breaking the leaves and stems down to create a topical cream
- Capsules and tablets, which can be taken orally