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How The Common Nettle Plant Promotes Healing And Health.

Updated on February 11, 2018
Seeker7 profile image

Helen is from Fife, Scotland. She was a registered nurse for many years before becoming a care manager and trainer for health workers.

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The common nettle for health and healing

Ignored and disliked as a stinging pest in the summer months, nettles have a pretty grim reputation. However, this interesting plant was once used widely by people for various reasons. Today it seems to be making a bit of a come back.


The Nettle

Most of us will have experienced the uncomfortable burning when stung by nettles. These fascinating plants have sharp appendages that inject like a hypodermic needle if triggered, releasing chemicals into the skin. Firstly, formic acid causes initial pain. The other effects such as redness, itchy bumps are caused by a combination of chemicals such as histamine, acetylcholine and 5-hydroxytryptamine. However, there is far more to the nettle than it's ability to sting.

The stinging nettle is undervalued by most of us - only appreciated for the painful sting it can give. However, it offers nutrition in abundance as well as healing.
The stinging nettle is undervalued by most of us - only appreciated for the painful sting it can give. However, it offers nutrition in abundance as well as healing. | Source
Many species of butterfly use the nettle as a food source for their young.
Many species of butterfly use the nettle as a food source for their young. | Source
The rash caused by a nettle sting. Some people find it only mildly painful, but others can experience more severe symptoms.
The rash caused by a nettle sting. Some people find it only mildly painful, but others can experience more severe symptoms. | Source

Folklore and home uses for the common nettle

There are a number of sources indicating the Romans introduced the nettle into Britain. However, bones from the later Bronze age in Denmark were found to have been wrapped in funeral cloth made from nettles. It would seem that the nettle was widespread in northern Europe well before the Romans arrived.

Nettles are known to have excellent uses as animal fodder when they are cut before flowering and dried out. Although the stalk is a bit bulky animals digest them well including pigs,rabbits and fowl.

As part of the environment, nettles are known to be the main food source for the caterpillars of a number of butterfly species such as the comma, tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock and painted lady - demonstrating well how nettles are an essential part of the ecosystem.

Older uses

There are sources such as the 18th century Scottish poet, Thomas Campbell who writes about not only sleeping on bedding made of nettles but eating from a nettle fibre tablecloth. It is true that fibres from the stems were made into both linen and ropes. Many other essential items were also made from nettles:

  • Both Native Americans and Europeans used nettles for making sails and fishing nets.
  • During WWI German soldiers had about 85% of their uniform made from nettle fibres. Germany also used the dye from nettles to colour tinned vegetables. In addition the British government during WWII, used tons of nettles to make a dye for camouflage.
  • Due to the nettle's large chlorophyll level it was used for hundred of years to make dye for all kinds of clothing and household items.
  • Many centuries ago the nettle 'juice' was used as both a hair rinse and to prevent baldness as it was believed it could stimulate hair growth.
  • Nettles were also used as an organic pesticide as they are very effective against pests such as mites or aphids.

Nettles are a very affective pesticide against pests such as aphids.
Nettles are a very affective pesticide against pests such as aphids. | Source

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Nettles are known to help with many skin conditions including eczema.
Nettles are known to help with many skin conditions including eczema. | Source

Health and healing with the common nettle

Going as far back as the ancient Egyptians there are documents showing the use of nettles in everyday life including health and healing. The Egyptians made an infusion believed to be particularly helpful for arthritis.

There is a common practice among many cultures called urtification where nettles are used to flog the skin for the health benefits. Nettles are thought to be good for:

  • Chronic rheumatism
  • lethargy
  • paralysis
  • cholera
  • typhus
  • There are also stories of Roman soldiers when invading Britain, using urtification to boost their tired legs. The cold and damp climate apparently affected their muscles badly.


Nettles are also known for their very high vitamin and mineral content. In fact nettles contain more iron than spinach and also high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, magnesium. Because of the high nutrition content nettles can be used for:

  • Anaemia
  • Asthma
  • Hay fever
  • Scurvy
  • Eczema and other skin conditions
  • Helps to regulate blood sugars
  • Is believed to help with both internal and external bleeding
  • Nettles were also used as tonic for lethargy during or after an illness.

In times past it was the poor, rural people in particular who would use nettles since they were available almost anywhere and cost nothing.

Nettles as well as being used in food - Roman soldiers are reported to have both eaten the leaves and used them in cooking to make meat more tender - were also used in various ways such as tea, beer and soup. The infusions made with nettles were also believed to stimulate milk production. Nursing mothers from Native American peoples would often take mixtures made from nettles. Even before the baby's birth the tips of the leaves would be nibbled on or made into a drink to help with an overdue labour - nettles apparently help relax the muscles so stimulating the birth.

In cooking, nettle leaves can be used for soups, quiches or the leaves served as a vegetable. Many people are now turning back to the nettle as not only a cheap food but an extremely healthy one as well. In addition, medical research is currently underway to determine the properties of the nettle in relation to helping the pain of arthritis.

So when the nettles start to come out again later in the year, instead of just brushing them off as a pest, take a little time to study them and appreciate this healing and healthy gem of nature. The ecosystem and our own health would be worse off if we didn't have the stinging nettle around.

Comments

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  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi teaches12345, always lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub! Yes, my respect for this much maligned plant has increased, I have much more respect for it now!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    5 years ago

    Wow, who would have thought so much use could come from such a simple plant! Thanks for the information and share. Great post topic!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rasma,

    Glad that you enjoyed the hub. Now I've never tasted nettle tea but I'm going to have a go at this. After years of avoiding nettles like the plague, I'm interested in what they can give health wise!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rosemay,

    Glad that you enjoyed the hub!

    Yes, I used to hate nettles now I have a lot more respect for them - even when I get a sting or two. But ouch!! Falling into a bed of nettles as a baby would be so painful and yes I think you would need a day or two in hospital at that age just due to the chemicals the nettles have! My Dad came off his bike and landed in a bed of nettles when he was about 10, but only needed a day off school until the rash faded, but he still remembers the agony!

    Yes - scientists, the ones who often scoffed at some of the old ways - now they're having to do a big turn around!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi thost, many thanks for stopping by, glad you enjoyed the hub!

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 

    5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Another interesting and informative hub. I know nettles well. On this side of the world we use them in tea, soup and salads. Passing this on.

  • Rosemay50 profile image

    Rosemary Sadler 

    5 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

    Wow I had no idea that they could be made into cloth or dye, I never considered that they were useful for anything, although I did have an aunt who used to make nettle tea.

    As a 2 year old I fell off a wall into a bed of nettles and spent 2 days in hospital, don't remember much but my Nan had a photo of me sat on the wall just before I fell, so often told the story.

    It is interesting though how the scientists are now looking into remedies that have been around for hundreds of years. Maybe they are beginning to take notice of some of these old wive's tales that are not so daft afterall.

    A great hub, interesting, useful and well researched,

  • thost profile image

    thost 

    5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

    Great Hub, thank you. Vote up.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Bumpsysmum, many thanks for the lovely comment and I'm glad that it's helped you. I have to say I was very guilty of groaning evertime I saw a bunch of nettles that I had to wade through while out walking the dogs, now I will have a lot more respect for them.

  • Bumpsysmum profile image

    Bumpsysmum 

    5 years ago from Cambridgeshire

    This could not have come at a better time! I am searching for anything that will help my problems and I think this may be one of them. It sure is a useful little plant and I have tons of it! I shall now view it in a different light and not just pull it up and burn it. Many thanks for this, great Hub. Interesting,useful and up.

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