What are the benefits and uses of stinging nettle?

Allergies & Asthma
Stinging nettle is a popular herbal remedy with many uses, ranging from reducing arthritis pain to treating seasonal allergies. What are the benefits of stinging nettle, and what does the research say?

Stinging nettle has a range of uses, and many people find it to be an effective remedy. The herb is generally safe to use, but it can cause side effects in some people.

There is limited research to suggest that stinging nettle is an effective remedy. Researchers need to do more studies before they can confirm the health benefits of stinging nettle.

This article will take a look at what the research says about the benefits and uses of stinging nettle. It will also discuss potential side effects and how to use the herb.

What is stinging nettle?

Stinging nettle leaves in a bowl on rustic table.
Stinging nettle has a long history of use as a medicinal aid.

Stinging nettle, or Urtica dioica, is a common plant that grows in the United States, Canada, and Europe. It primarily grows in damp, fertile soil.

The nettle has sharp hairs on its leaves. These hairs contain chemicals, such as formic acid and histamine, that can irritate the skin and cause stinging, itching, and redness.

Stinging nettle hairs also contain a range of other chemicals that can affect humans, including acetylcholine and serotonin.

Ancient civilizations used stinging nettles to treat various ailments. For example, Ancient Egyptians used stinging nettle infusions to treat arthritis. Some people still use stinging nettle as a medicinal aid today.

Below, we cover the alleged health benefits of stinging nettle.


Relieving arthritis

One of the most popular uses of stinging nettle is treating arthritis symptoms. According to the Arthritis Foundation, some people claim that the nettle can reduce inflammation, help improve osteoarthritis (OA) pain, and ease gout.

Researchers have investigated the following properties of stinging nettle:

Stinging nettle hairs contain several chemicals that have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. This means that stinging nettle could help reduce pain and inflammation in conditions such as arthritis.

In a randomized controlled trial (RCT) from 2009, researchers gave 81 people with OA either a supplement that contained fish oil, vitamin E, and stinging nettle or a placebo.

Over a period of 3 months, people who took the supplement reported fewer symptoms and less frequent use of their anti-inflammatory medications than those in the placebo group. However, there is a need for more recent studies in humans.

The results of a 2016 mouse study suggested that a herbal gel containing Urtica dioica had pain-relieving and anti-edema effects without irritating the skin.

People who use stinging nettles either take capsules or apply a cream that contains stinging nettles to their affected joints.

Because of its anti-inflammatory effects, which have let to its current uses in conditions such as arthritis and allergies, researchers hope that stinging nettle could also have uses in other inflammatory conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.


Reducing seasonal allergies

Stinging nettle may help treat seasonal allergies.
Stinging nettle may help treat seasonal allergies.

Stinging nettle is a popular treatment for seasonal allergies. Scientists are not yet sure how it has this effect, though some suggest it is because the nettle can reduce allergy-related inflammation in the body.

Seasonal allergies occur when a substance such as pollen triggers the body to produce histamine. Histamine is what causes the characteristic symptoms of allergies, such as inflammation, itching, and hives.

The current evidence for how effective stinging nettle is for relieving allergies is mixed.

According to some research, stinging nettle may disrupt the allergy process by inhibiting the body’s histamine production and related inflammation.

However, in an RCT from 2017, researchers found that stinging nettle extract and a placebo pill both reduced symptom severity. The authors concluded that more research is needed.

The National Centers for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) indicate that there is currently not enough evidence to suggest that stinging nettle can help treat allergies.

The NCCIH also report that other home remedies for allergies, such as capsaicin, quercetin, spirulina, and Pycnogenol, do not have enough solid evidence behind them to prove their effectiveness.


Treating benign prostatic hyperplasia

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a noncancerous growth of the prostate gland in men. The condition can cause a range of symptoms, mostly involving urinary processes.

Stinging nettle may help slow the growth of the prostate in people with BPH by affecting hormone levels or interacting with cells in the prostate.

Some studies have found that stinging nettle can reduce the symptoms of BPH. For example, in one RCT from 2013, researchers gave people either stinging nettles or a placebo for 8 weeks. They found a significant reduction in symptoms for people taking stinging nettles but not those taking the placebo.

However, there is not currently enough research in humans to determine whether stinging nettle can help treat the symptoms of BPH. That said, future studies may uncover other ways to use it.

A person should see a doctor if they suspect prostate problems, so the doctor can rule out or treat any serious issues.

Managing diabetes

There is some early evidence to suggest that stinging nettle could also help with the treatment of diabetes. However, much of this research is limited to animals.

In another RCT from 2013, people with type 2 diabetes took 500-milligram (mg) capsules of stinging nettle extract or a placebo every 8 hours along with their usual treatment. After 3 months, the stinging nettle extract had a positive effect on blood glucose levels.

Other studies have had similar results.

These findings are promising, but researchers need to conduct more studies in humans to determine whether stinging nettle could be a useful addition to traditional diabetes treatments.


Where can I find stinging nettle?

Stinging nettle grows throughout the U.S. It grows in damp soil, such as near lakes or in open forests. It can also grow at roadsides or in fields.

When foraging for the plant, make sure to correctly identify it to be sure it is stinging nettle and not a similar-looking plant. A person can usually tell by looking at its leaf shape and structure.

People can also purchase stinging nettle products that use the stems, leaves, and roots of the plant in health food stores and online. When purchasing remedies over the internet, be sure to check the reviews and find reputable brands.

The following products are available to buy online:

How to use

Nettle herbal tea
Drinking nettle tea is an easy way to benefit from the herbal remedy.

The method of taking stinging nettle will vary depending on its intended use.

For example, the Arthritis Foundation suggest taking up to 1,300 mg of stinging nettle as a tea, capsule, tablet, tincture, or extract. Otherwise, people can take 1–4 mg per day as a tincture, or they can apply creams directly to the skin.

Many research studies have used a capsule or extract of stinging nettle, but there are no official guidelines as of yet.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate the ingredients, strengths, and claims of herbal remedies or supplements. This includes stinging nettle products.

People should therefore use such products with caution.


Side effects

Stinging nettle is a safe herb to consume in moderate amounts. However, side effects can include:

  • stomach problems
  • urinary issues
  • sweating
  • hives or rashes
  • diarrhea

There is no official safety information for pregnant women or children. For this reason, both groups should avoid using stinging nettle.

It is always important to consult a doctor before using any herbal remedy to treat a medical condition.

Possible drug interactions

Stinging nettle may also interact with certain medicines, including:


Summary

Stinging nettle could have a range of health benefits. There is some evidence to suggest that the herb may be useful in treating arthritis.

However, there is much weaker evidence to support claims behind its use in treating other conditions, such as allergies and BPH.

Stinging nettle is usually safe, but it can cause some side effects. It is important to consult a doctor before using stinging nettle to treat any condition, as it may interact with medications.

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