Benevolent Nettles

Discover the dense nutrition and medicinal properties behind nettle’s intimidating sting.

| Spring 2018

  • nettle seeds
    You can find nettle seeds at,,,, and
    Photo by Fotolia/morissfoto
  • nettle pancakes
    Particularly in Europe, nettles can be found in pancakes and other baked goods.
    Photo by iStock/MonaMakela
  • nettle alternative medicine
    Besides containing an array of vitamins and minerals, nettles also provide benefits through their use in alternative medicine.
    Photo by iStock/Julia_Sudnitskaya

  • nettle seeds
  • nettle pancakes
  • nettle alternative medicine

It’s a wonder anyone ever overcame the nettle’s sting to discover the wealth of protein, vitamins, and minerals within. But we’re fortunate they did. In various studies, dried nettles have been shown to contain between 25 and 40 percent protein — making them an excellent source of green vegetable protein. They’re also rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron, as well as vitamins B complex, C, and A.

Nettles have been used medicinally for centuries. The most ancient medical use of this prickly plant was for urtication — whipping paralyzed limbs with fresh nettles to bring muscles into action. Herbalists used to slap the flesh of arthritis sufferers with nettles to relieve pain. In more recent times, hot poultices of nettle leaves have been used for this same purpose.

Roman soldiers planted stinging nettle throughout Europe’s colder regions as they traveled and rubbed the plants on their legs and arms to increase circulation. In commercial trade, mature nettle plants were an important source of fiber for making paper, rope, and cloth for fine table and bed linens. Poet Thomas Campbell even said, “In Scotland, I have eaten nettle, have slept in nettle sheets, and have dined off a nettle tablecloth.”

Modern Medicinal Uses

Today, nettles are widely used in alternative medicine. Because of their diuretic action — after they’re ingested, they encourage the flushing of the system — they’re often included in cleansing diets. In Germany, a preparation of nettle roots is approved to relieve urinary problems associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). And in at least one study, nettles have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of hay fever. However, nettles can produce allergic reactions in some people, so try small quantities at first to see how you react.

The Sting’s Source

Three species of stinging nettle are common in the United States — Urtica dioica, U. chamaedryoides, and U. urens.

All U. urens varieties and one U. dioica cultivar, intentionally imported from Europe for food, medicine, and fiber, have become naturalized throughout the United States. The other species are natives and are equally useful. Nettles grow along roadsides and ditches, in moist woods and thickets, in rubbish heaps, and in gardens and other places where the soil is moist and rich in nitrogen.

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