Health Benefits of Stinging Nettle (as Tea or Food)
Not only are the roots and the young leafy tops of stinging nettle edible, they are also good for you. Whether cooked and consumed as food, or taken as a supplement in the form of a capsule, extract or herbal tea, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) can supply your body with a slew of beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals.
In this article, we take an in-depth look at the potential nutritional and health benefits of stinging nettle. At the end of this article, you'll also find tips on where to get fresh nettle leaves (ideal for use in cooking or juicing) and dried nettle leaves (which can be used as a basis for caffeine-free herbal tea).
Traditional Medicinal Uses
Leaves of stinging nettle have been used as a medicinal and healing plant for hundreds of years. In folk medicine, nettle leaves have been used to prevent and treat everything from rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, seasonal allergies, eczema and hair loss to iron-deficiency anemia, kidney and urinary problems, diarrhea and hemorrhoids. Nettle root, in turn, has become a popular herbal remedy for urinary problems occurring during the early stages of an enlarged prostate.
5 Health Benefits of Nettles (Backed by Scientific Evidence)
Nettle Leaf – A Caffeine-Free Diuretic
Coffee and regular tea are known for their diuretic effects, but also many caffeine-free herbal infusions, such as dandelion leaf tea and nettle tea, have proven urine-stimulating properties. Due to its diuretic effects, nettle tea – along with fresh nettle juice – is used extensively to treat conditions that can benefit from increased urination, such as recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs), cellulite, and kidney stones. That said, these uses are based on the assumption that all herbal diuretics are good for people suffering from these conditions, a claim that has not been proven scientifically. Therefore, well-designed human studies investigating the potential health benefits of nettle leaf containing drinks and supplements for people with urinary and kidney problems, or cellulite, are clearly needed.
A Remedy for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Stinging nettle leaf tea is an old folk remedy for rheumatoid arthritis, and scientific research now suggests that the claims about the anti-arthritic properties of nettle tea may in fact have truth to them. A study published in FEBS Letters in January 1999 found that extracts from leaves of stinging nettles inhibit NF-κB activation, possibly by suppressing a common NF-κB pathway. Previous research shows that activation of the transcription factor NF-κB is elevated in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Relief from Seasonal Allergies (Hay Fever)
In addition to alleviating joint pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, nettle leaf tea may also offer health benefits for people suffering from other inflammatory diseases, such as hay fever. A study published in the July 2009 issue of the journal Phytotherapy Research found that a nettle extract inhibited a whole slew of several key inflammatory events that cause the typical hay fever symptoms. Another study, involving 69 people with seasonal allergies, found that ingestion of freeze-dried nettle leaf was at least slightly more effective at improving hay fever symptoms than a placebo. This randomized, double-blind study appeared in the February 1990 issue of the journal Planta Medica.
Nettle Root – A Natural Remedy for Prostate Enlargement
Several studies suggest that nettle root may be effective at treating benign prostatic hyperplasia, a urological condition caused by the non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland in older men. In one such study, 558 people were randomly assigned to receive either nettle root or placebo for six months. At the end of the six-month trial, 81% of those in the nettle root group reported improved lower urinary tract symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia, compared with 16% of the patients in the placebo group. As a result of the evidence supporting the use of nettle root as a treatment for prostate problems, numerous nettle root supplements are now available without prescription for men around the world (the online retailer Amazon sells them here for US customers and here for UK shoppers).
Note: Before using nettle root for prostate problems, be sure to get a proper medical evaluation to rule out prostate cancer.
Plant-Based Source of Iron
According to USDA data, stinging nettles are a very good source of iron, with 1 cup of blanched nettles (about 3 ounces or 90 grams) providing a whopping 1.5 milligrams of iron. This corresponds to about 8% of the daily reference value for this vital mineral. If you're one of the eight million American women who are deficient in iron and are trying to pump up your iron levels, take note though: the iron found in plant-based foods, including nettle leaves, is so-called non-heme iron – a type of iron that is not absorbed by our bodies as well as the iron found in red meat. Therefore, people suffering from an iron deficiency are usually advised to eat more meat (or take high-quality iron supplements) in order to quickly supply their bodies with highly-absorbable heme iron.
Where to Get Nettle Leaves (for Use as Tea or Food)
Fresh Nettle Leaves
Juice made from fresh nettle leaves is increasingly available in well-stocked health food stores and online shops (you can buy it through Amazon here if you live in the US, or here if you live in the UK). However, if you're looking for fresh, unprocessed nettle leaves for use in cooking, you will probably have to pick your own. The good news is that you shouldn't have much trouble finding fresh nettle leaves as this nutrient-dense superfood and healing herb grows wild in almost every corner of the world.
Stinging nettles should be harvested with protective gloves in spring when the young shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall, well before the plants flower. When picking wild nettles, make sure you don't pick them in an area that has been exposed to pesticides, herbicides, or pollution. It is also important to avoid areas that may have been treated with nitrogen fertilizers, as nettles grown in such areas may have accumulated excessive amounts of harmful nitrates.
Dried Leaves for Herbal Tea
If you are DIY-inclined, pick young nettle tops in spring (see tips above), and dry them in a non-plastic food dehydrator. You can also buy stinging nettle leaf tea in many health food stores (and even in some supermarkets) as well as online. Organic nettle leaf tea is available through the online retailer Amazon here (for US residents) and here (for UK shoppers).
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