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Stinging Nettle and Arthritis

Updated on August 31, 2012
The stinging nettle
The stinging nettle | Source

Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle or Urtica dioica is a very common plant in the United States. The plant is found throughout the United States and is commonly found in shady areas near water. The plant grows in abundance often covering large areas of the understory. It is bushy shorter, usually around a meter in height and small hairs cover the stem and leaves. These hairs are what 'sting' a person when he or she touches the nettle plant. When you brush against the plant the small hairs break off in your skin and release a combination of formic acid, acetylchlorine, serotonin and histamines into your skin. This causes a sever irritation against normal skin. The hairs will not usually penetrate clothing and so long pants and shirts are enough to prevent one from being stung.

Nettles have long been used in culinary aspects, soups salads and as steamed greens. Historical medical use for nettles is that of tonics used to treat asthma or for hair growth. As nettles are high in vitamin C they do work well as an immune system booster for many people.

Close up of stinging nettle hairs or the 'stingers' on a stem
Close up of stinging nettle hairs or the 'stingers' on a stem | Source

Using Nettles to Treat Arthritis

When nettles are brushed against the skin they create a painful sensation almost like a sever itching. This is because nettles are able to treat arthritis is through a process called urtication. When the hairs of stinging nettles are contacted against the skin and joints they cause an irritation which not only is itchy but actually creates the dilation of surface capillaries, stimulating blood flow, nerve activity, lymphatic flow, and cellular metabolism in the area touched. If you have experienced this phenomenon you know that it lasts for several minutes and your skin will turn pinkish red and become slightly inflamed in the areas where the nettles have touched you.

Studies have shown that the combination of acids serotonin and histamine have been suggested to block cytokines and other inflammation-producing immune cells, which encourage inflammatory deterioration in bone and cartilage. This means that nettles can help reduce inflammation from arthritis when applied directly to the areas affected. Applying nettles directly to the area also reduce pain significantly in those suffering from arthritis. The combination of chemical effects the nervous system of the body in a way that reduced pain to the affected areas.

To use stinging nettles it is best to apply the leaves directly to the inflamed areas. Ingesting extracts or leaves will not yield the desired effects. When applying the leaves it is best to wrap them on the area and leave them there for two to three minutes to encourage all the natural chemicals to enter your body. Use care to not touch areas other than those you wish to be treated unless you want a very itchy surprise. It is best to use gloves, alternate hands if you are treating fingers to handle the plant.

Nettles can be collected by rivers and streams, and they can also be grown in home gardens or flower boxes. Plants can be grown indoors for year round availability in the home. Plants can be transplanted from wild areas or grown from seeds available online for purchase.

However, an easier way to use nettles is to apply a cream to the affected areas. Such creams have been shown to help patients in clinical studies and are usually very affordable. Make sure to only apply the cream as directed as long term studies concerning the effects of stinging nettle treatment have not yet been conducted.

Other Uses

While nettles are great for arthritis treatment don't forget that they are also healthy vitamin filled edible plants. They are also used by some homeopathic doctors to treat many kinds of inflammation from tendinitis, to Lyme disease complications. They help speed blood flow to the affected areas and are a great alternative to creams such as 'icy hot' or menthol gels in treating sports injuries. Finally nettles are commonly found in many areas, treating yourself with minimal cost and maximum benefit is easy and satisfying and can be a great start into the world of plant identification or wildcrafting.


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