Family Name: Urticariaceae
The most peculiar part about this plant is that it is armed with a thousand little syringes, and, if you bump against it, they will shoot you with venom similar to that fond in stinging ants. Hence the name stinging nettle. That said, it has factored into stay well regimens since the begining of time and this is a stay well plant worth lknowing about.
Chapter from My PhD Thesis
Eclectic Physician’s notes
Parts Used: Leaves and stalks
Remember This: causes red cures red
Reasonable Uses: hay fever, allergies, runny eyes, running nose, osteo-arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, allergic skin conditions including eczema and contact dermatitis.
History and Traditional Uses
The nettle plant is hard to miss. It stings you the way a honeybee or fire ant would. Indeed, its stingers contain formic acid, the same chemical that puts the sting in a fire ant! Just like the ant sting, the nettle sting will cause your skin to swell up and itch like crazy.
Oddly, its age old use is in treating chronic inflammation, both of the skin, joints, and even the respiratory tract. The Romans used it to treat swollen arthritic joints and Colonial Americans used it to treat inflammatory skin and respiratory problems. The ancients used the plant that caused inflammation to treat inflammation.
Scientific Back Up
Scientific encounter with the nettle suggests that the weedy plant may be able just what a person suffering from chronic inflammation needs
Scientists at the University of Frankfurt, the University of Dusseldorf, and St. Elisabeth’s Clinic in Straubing, Germany, studied 40 people with sudden, severe episodes of arthritis. Half the people were given 200 mg of diclofenac (Cataflam), a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used for arthritis pain. The others were given only 50 mg of diclofenac and 50 grams of stewed nettle leaves. (Heating or drying nettle removes the sting.)
People in both groups experienced considerably less pain and stiffness. The researchers noted a previous study in which people with arthritis were able to cut their doses of NSAIDs in half by taking 1,340 mg of dried, powdered nettle. The next step, they say, is to find out whether stinging nettle can ease acute attacks of arthritis on its own, without the use of drugs.
Herbalists Use It To…
Minimalise seasonal allergies
The good news about seasonal allergies is they are seasonal, you know when to expect the running nose and itching eyes. Whether its grass pollen in the summer or leaf mould in the fall, it’s all terribly predictable for most allergy sufferers. Herbalists recommend patients start using nettle products one month before their allergies traditionally start and to keep using it straight through the end of their allergy season. In some cases symptoms disappear, in others they are greatly reduced.
Reduce inflammation in chronic joint disease
They are many different types of arthritis but they all share one common feature, chronically inflamed, swollen, and painful joints. The Romans were the first to note that red joints, when stung with nettles, improved. Modern herbalists no longer recommend people stinging themselves with nettles, rather they suggest taking nettle products on a daily basis for long periods of time. The effect is dramatic in some and more subtle in others, but, herbalists concur it is worth a try when chronic joint disease is the problem.
Calm hysterical skin
Some people merely bump into something and they come out in hives! In others, bumping into something results in a full blown case of contact dermatitis or eczema. Herbalists recommend people with seriously reactive skin, skin that powerfully over reacts to just about anything, use nettles to make the skin less hysterical.
Make certain that the products you purchase are made out of the nettle plant. (The nettle root products are used for prostate problems!) Avoid products containing other herbal remedies.
Experts recommend taking no more than 1 dose a day for the first few days to make certain you are not allergic to it!
Chapter from My PhD Thesis
Part Used: Fresh plant (1), leaves, root, seed. (2)
Chemical Constituent: Significant phytochemicals include lycopene, histamine, protoporphyrin, serotonin, violaxanthin, and xanthophyll-epoxide. (9)
Urtica dioica is native to both Europe and North America . The European variety has male and female plants whilst the American variety has flowers of both sexes on the same plant. Apart from reproductive differences, the plants are otherwise similar. They are both well known for their ability to raise welts on the skin if brushed against.
In Europe the ancients knew the plant. The Romans used it to treat a variety of conditions including rheumatism, paralysis, and impotence. A European medical text dating to 1475 said this of it. “It s good for jaundice if one crushed it with wine and drinks it. If one boils the seed in wine, that is good for diseases of the testicles. It cures, too, old cough if one drinks it often, and drives away cold from the lungs, and it is good for swollen stomach. For all this, nettle seed is good together with honey, or if one drinks green nettle juice. If one crushes salt with nettle leaves, it is good for boils and foul sores. It is good for teeth and dog bite. With this too, flesh is put on the bare bones, and all dangerous humor is dried. But if nettle roots are crushed with vinegar, that is good for swelling of the spleen and of the feet.” (9) Gerard, writing in 1633, confirms the belief that the drug was a stimulant to general health, well-being, and libido. “The seed of nettle stirreth up lust, especially drunke with cute . ” (11)
In North America , the various tribes (Ojibwe, Huron, Iroquois, Algonquin, Chippewa, Menomini, Meskwaki, and Potawatami) used the plant for a multitude of purposes. Primarily used as a fibre for clothing and fishing nets, it also found use as a diuretic and antiperiodic. The drug was used to treat urinary tract disease and malaria.
The Colonials used Urtica for a mixture of purposes. According to Raffinesque, it was used as a vermifuge, laxative, goitre cure, and treatment for corpulence. Raffinesque re-iterates the belief that the drug engendered vitality, even in barnyard animals. He commented that that the drug made horses smart and frisky and stimulated fowl to lay an abundance of eggs. (9)
Urtica dioica is a plant that makes itself known. Anyone who has walked the woods of Northern Europe of North America has made its acquaintance. The Eclectics were aware of the plant and its applications from the very beginning of the movement.
Eclectic Uses (1–8)
Astringent, styptic, tonic, and diuretic.
“Chronic diarrhoea and dysentery, with large mucous evacuations; profuse secretion of gastric juice, with eructation’s and emesis; choleric discharges; summer bowel diseases of children, with copious watery and mucous passages; chronic eczematous eruptions” (3)
Malaria, scorbutic affections, febrile affections, (seeds) tertian and quatrain ague, goitre, excessive corpulence, profuse mucous discharges.
Haemorrhoids, haemorrhages, passive haemorrhages, hematuria, menorrhagia, epistaxis, hematemesis, bleeding gums, bleeding piles.
Diseases of the bowels, chronic disease of the large intestine with increased mucous secretion, chronic diarrhoea, chronic dysentery with profuse mucous discharges, summer complaints of children, cholera infantum, summer disorders of children, with profuse water or mucous discharges, chronic diseases of the colon with increased secretion of mucous.
Suppression of milk.
Diseases of the urinary organs gravel, nephritic complaints, chronic cystitis with mucous discharges, strangury, suppression of urine, leucorrhea.
Bronchopulmonary disorders with free secretion.
Eczematous affections, stubborn eczema of the face, neck, and ears, crust head, chronic skin disease, nodular urticaria, vesicular erysipelas, retroversion eruptions, erythema, especially in eczema capitis and facialis.
The drug from Selye’s perspective
State of Resistance
The drug was used to raise resistance to malaria, scorbutic affections, febrile affections, goitre, excessive corpulence, and urinary/respiratory tract disease.
State of Exhaustion
When the body could no longer resist chronic disease and State of Exhaustion set in, the drug was employed. Signs of State of Exhaustion , treated with the drug, included chronic skin disease, spleen enlargement, cachexia, profuse mucous secretion, passive haemorrhage, chronic diarrhoea/dysentery, increased and abnormal watery discharge from the bowels, suppression of urine, temperature abnormalities, and broncho-pulmonary affections with excessive secretion.
From Selye’s perspective, the drug was used to augment adaptation energy which suggests it increases adaptation energy. Evidence to this effect includes the following. Urtica dioica was used to increase resistance to chronic microbial infection. It was used when State of Exhaustion set in. Lastly, it was seen as a stimulant to libido.
Brekhman’s Adaptogen Criterion
An adaptogen should be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism.
Eclectic and contemporary literature reports the drug to be innocuous. (1–10)
The action of an adaptogen should be non-specific i.e. it should increase resistance to adverse influences of a wide range of factors of physical, chemical, and biological nature.
Clinically, the drug was used to increased resistance to malaria, hypothyroidism and respiratory/urinary tract disease. (1–8)
Experimentally, the drug contains compounds that have been shown to increase resistance to cancer, bacterial infection, fungal infection, cancer (bladder, breast, cervix), free radical damage, tumour formation, liver damage, fatigue, poisoning, and mutagenicity. (9)
An adaptogen may possess normalising action irrespective of the direction of the foregoing pathological changes.
Clinically, the drug was used to normalise many of the physiological aberrations noted to occur in State of Exhaustion including passive haemorrhages, membrane permeability abnormalities, skin and mucous membrane abnormalities, and temperature irregularities. (1–8)
Experimentally, the drug contains compounds that have been shown to normalise certain physiological functions including depression, hypertension, inadequate secretion, gastritis, anaemia, hypercholesterolemia, allergies, arthritis, and rheumatism. (9)
The drug exhibits properties consistent with Brekhman’s definition of an adaptogen. The drug is innocuous; it raises resistance to a wide range of biological threats, and normalises function.
Urtica dioica is a strange plant. Covered with microscopic hypodermic needles that inject formic acid into the skin on contact, the plant stings like a fire ant. Despite its unpleasant nature, it has been revered as a vitality stimulant since the beginning of time. The Vikings, the Romans, and the various North American tribes saw it as a boon to health. It was simply a tonic or panacea that had to be picked carefully.
The drug is currently used to treat chronic skin disease, and more often than not, chronic skin disease of an inflammatory nature. Like the welts it raises, it is used to quell a tendency to welts. Some suggest this uses comes directly from the Eclectics, however, this not entirely true. The Eclectics used Urtica when constitutional collapse, or State of Exhaustion , had occurred. Skin disease is one part of that clinical picture. The Eclectics used Urtica for skin disease, but when it was a part of a greater problem.
Potential Clinical Applications
Historically, the drug was used to raise resistance amongst those in a state of constitutional collapse. Experimental data supports this use. The drug may have a role in treating patients no longer able to resist the hardship of chronic disease.
• Effects of Urtica dioica (leaf, root, and seed) on the GAS. Different parts of the plant have been used for medicine, intermittently, throughout history. It would be helpful to determine the various parts of the plant effect on the GAS. The different parts of the plant should be tested out in the animal model.
• Urtica dioica and State of Exhaustion . Clinically, the drug was used when patients had hit State of Exhaustion . Its role in State of Exhaustion should be examined.
• Urtica dioica and weight abnormalities. Historically the drug was used to normalize weight abnormalities. Its effect in stress related weight loss or gain should be examined.
• Urtica dioica and sexual dysfunction. Historically the drug was used to augment sexual function. There is some evidence supporting this use. Its role in correcting stress or age related sexual dysfunction should be examined.
The drug is abundant in the wild and is readily grown.
• Scudder, J. M. Specific Medication and Specific Medicines. Revised. Fifth Edition. Wilstach, Baldwin and Company. Cincinnati . 1874. P. 261.
• Scudder, J. M. The American Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics. Published by the Author. Cincinnati . 1883. P. 549.
• Watkins, Lyman. An Eclectic Compendium of The Practice of Medicine. John M.Scudder’s Sons. Cincinnati . 1895. P. 452.
• Felter, Harvey Wickes and Lloyd, John Uri. Kings’ American Dispensatory. Volume one and Volume two. Ohio Valley Company. Cincinnati . 1898. P. 2032.
• Webster, HT. Dynamical Therapeutics—A work devoted to the Theory and Practice of Specific Medication with special references to the newer remedies. Webster Medical Publishing Company. Oakland . Second Edition. 1898.P. 321, 559.
• Lloyd Brothers. Dose book of Specific Medicines. Lloyd Brothers, Cincinnati . 1907.P. 234.
• Fyfe, John William. Pocket Essentials of Modern Materia Medica and Therapeutics. The Scudder Brothers Company. 1903. P. 306.
• Lloyd Brothers. Dose book of Specific Medicines. Lloyd Brothers, Cincinnati . 1930.
• Dr. Dukes Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database. Agricultural Research Service. USDA.
• Erichson-Brown, Charlotte . Medicinal and other uses of North American Plants. Dover Publications. New York . 1979. P. 443–447.
• Johnson, Gerard. The Herbal or General History of Plants. London . 1633. P. 706–708.
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians
Preparation- Prepare a tincture from the fresh plant, 3viij. to Alcohol 76degree Oj. Dose from gtts. j. to gtts. x.
The urtica has been employed in some diseases of the bowels, with reported good results. An old practitioner informs me, that in chronic disease of the large intestine with increased mucous secretion, he has never found anything so beneficial as this remedy. It has also been used in diseases of the urinary organs.
It is now but little used, but deserves investigation.
Urtica is astringent, styptic, tonic, and diuretic. The seeds, leaves, juice, and roots of the common nettle are all used occasionally for their remedial virtues.
We have employed the roots in numerous instances as astringent with uneqivocable advantage, and we know of no single agent upon which we would sooner rely in all the ordinary cases in which this class of agents is indicated. it is powerfully astringent, and well adapted to all cases of chronic diarrhea, and dysentery, and to the relief of the summer complaints of children….we should place , however, but little dependance upon any potion except the root, in hemorrhagic and mucous discharges. the seeds and flowers have been employed in the place of the peruvian bark.
1898: Felter and Lloyd – URTICA – NETTLE
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage – Common nettle is astringent, tonic, and diuretic. A decoction is valuable in diarrhoea and dysentery, with profuse discharges, and in hemorrhoids, various hemorrhages, and scorbutic affections, and has been recommended in febrile affections, gravel, an dother nephritic complaints. A strong syrup made of the root, combined with suitable quantities of wild-cherry bark and blackberry root, forms an excellent remedy for all summer complaints of children, and bowel affections of adults. In cholera infantum and other summer disorders of children, with profuse watery or mucous discharges, the following treatment gives excellent results: R Specific urtica, 3ss; water, 3iii. Mix. Dose, a teaspoonful, every 1 or 2 hours. It is especially applicable in chronic diseases of the colon, with increased secretion of mucus. The leaves of the fresh plant stimulate, inflame, and even raise blisters on those portions of the skin with which they come in contact, and have, in consequence, been used as a powerful rubefacient. Paralysis is said to have been cured by whipping the affected limbs with them. Applied to bleeding surfaces, they are an excellent styptic. The seeds and flowers, given in wine, in doses not to exceed 1 drachm, have been reputed equal to cinchona in tertian and quartan agues – larger doses will, it is said, induce a lethargic sleep. The seeds, in doses of 14 or 16, and repeated 3 times daily, are highly recommended as a remedy for goitre, and to reduce excessive corpulence; they are also considered anthelmintic. The seeds may also be prepared in strong tincture with full strength alcohol, the dose of which, for goitre, would be from a fraction of a drop to 10 drops. Dr. J. D. McCann (Ec. Med. Gleaner, 1893, p.62) praises this agent as a remedy for eczematous affections, and relats a case of stubborn eczema of the face, neck, and ears that was readily and completely cured by the following local application: R Specific urtica, fl3ii; rose water, fl3i. Mix. Apply every 3 or 4 hours. Several other cases have also yielded to it. A child with “a crust-covered head, with here and there a bleeding surface,” that had long resisted treatment, yielded in a short time to softening applications of olive oil, thorough ablutions with soap and water, drying the parts, and applying the solution as above recommended. Some physicians prescribe the remedy internally at the same time that they are using it locally. It is also a remedy for chronic cystitis, with mucous discharges. Warts, rubbed with the freshly expressed juice of this plant, 3 or 4 times a day, continuing the application daily for 10 or 12 days, disappear without any pain being produced (M. Jaroschevitz). Dose of the powdered root or leaves, from 20 to 40 grains; of the decoction, from 2 to 4 fluid ounces; of specific urtica, 1/10 to 10 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses – Chronic diarrhoea and dysentery, with large mucous evacuations; profuse secretion of gastric juice, with eructations and emesis; choleraic discharges; summer bowel diseases of children, with copious watery and mucous passages; chronic eczematous eruptions.
1898: Webster(The Ductless Glands)
The seeds of the stinging nettle are reported to have removed goitres. A tincture should be made from the fresh seeds by covering them with pure alcohol and allowing them to macerate fourteen days. Of this from a fraction of a drop to ten drops will constitute the dose. Internal remedies may often be externally assisted, in the treatment of goitre, by the local use of polymnia ointment. An ointment of biniodide of mercury has also ly extolled in some quarters.
1911:Fyfe (root and leaves)
Profuse mucous discharges, urticaria, when the skin is elevated and attended by stinging and burning. Diarhea,dysentery,cholera infantum, chronic inflammation of the bladder, and hemorrhoids are among the pathological conditions which frequently present indications for this medicament. Urtica dioica is astringent, tonic, and a powerful diuretic.
1895: Watkins - URTICA DIOICA, SP MED:
Profuse secretion of gastric juice, eructations an dvomiting, diarrhoea or dysentery with large mucous discharges, chronic inflammation of the bladder with mucous discharges in the urine. Ten to twenty drops in four ounces of water; teaspoonful three times a day.