"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"

Stinging nettle is considered by many to be a bothersome pest, but the nettle has been used since ancient times as a source of food, fiber, and medicinal preparations.  In Denmark, burial shrouds made of nettle fabrics have been discovered that date back to the Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC). Europeans and Native Americans used the fibers from stinging nettle to make sailcloth, sacking, cordage, and fishing nets.  These fibers have also been used to produce cloth similar in feel and appearance to silky linen.  During World War I, the German Empire, plagued by textile shortages, used nettles as a substitute for cotton.  Captured German uniforms were found to be 85% nettle fiber.

Stinging nettle is one of the richest sources of chlorophyll in the vegetable kingdom.  A decoction of the plant has been used to produce a green dye for clothing for centuries.  At the beginning of the Second World War, a request by the British government was made for the collection of 100 tons of nettles, which were used for the extraction of this green dye for camouflage. This property has also been used commercially in Germany as a food coloring agent for canned vegetables.

In ancient Egypt reports are found of the use of nettle infusion for the relief of arthritis and lumbago pains.  A standard practice of flogging oneself with the fresh nettle plant, called urtification, was prescribed to treat such illnesses as chronic rheumatism, lethargy, coma, paralysis, and even typhus, and cholera.  This practice of urtification is known to many cultures and has been used for thousands of years.  The Roman soldiers are said to have brought their own nettle to the British Isles to treat their tired, painful legs on long marches in the cold and wet climate by urtification, thus stimulating the circulation. Documentation or anecdotal reports of its use in this way have been found among the Ecuador Indians, ancient Romans, and Canadian and American native tribes.

Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) and his followers reported 61 remedies using nettle.  In the second century A.D., Galen, the Greek physician, recommended nettle in his book De Simplicibus as “a diuretic and laxative, for dog bites, gangrenous wounds, swellings, nose bleeding, excessive menstruation, spleen-related illness, pleurisy, pneumonia, asthma, tinea, and mouth sores.” Two hundred years after Galen, Apuleius Platonicus (circa 400 A.D.), in his book Herbarium of Apuleius, added nettle combined with hemp or cannabis to “treat symptoms of feeling cold after being burnt (shocked)”, and nettle by itself for “cold injury”. Throughout the Dark Ages (fifth to tenth centuries) uses of nettle were expanded to include treatment of shingles, constipation, and “dry disease”, which probably meant problems with the sinuses or lungs, mucous membranes, and skin.

The 16th century herbalist John Gerard used stinging nettle as an antidote for poison. In the seventeenth century, Culpeper, the astrologer-physician, recommended a nettle and honey extract as a gargle for throat and mouth infections, and claimed that nettles were helpful for “bladder stones or gravel, worms in children, an antiseptic for wounds and skin infections, gout, sciatica, joint aches, and as an antidote to venomous stings from animals”. In the nineteenth century, Phelps Brown suggested nettle internally as a diuretic and tonic.  He hailed it as a remedy for dysentery, hemorrhoids, bladder and kidney stones, and used the seeds and flowers in wine for fevers.  It was also employed in cases of infant diarrhea and eczema.

Stinging nettle has always been recognized for its tonic and nutritional value.  It is rich in vitamins and minerals and has traditionally been used primarily in the spring time to stimulate slow winter blood.  Its reputation for restorative powers for the sick has been particularly appreciated in poor and rural areas, especially since it is freely available from the fields and ditches.  There are reports of the Romans eating nettles as food and using it in the boiling of meat to tenderize it.  It is used as a pot plant, in a soup, a tea, and as an ale or beer.  Nettle is a traditional remedy for scurvy, anemia, and lack of energy.  This is due to its high level of iron, vitamin C, magnesium, and other nutrients.  The English poet, Campbell, complained of the little attention paid to the nettle in England.  He says, “In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth.  The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb.  The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth.  I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen.”

The infusion was found to be helpful in increasing milk production, both in humans and in cows.  It has been used freely as a gynecological aid by women of the North American aboriginal nations.  The juice is taken by pregnant women who are overdue to promote labor.  The tips of the plant were chewed during childbirth, as well as the infusion being drunk to relax the muscles.

Stinging nettle has been used throughout history as animal fodder, as vegetarian rennet in cheese making, and is still included in the Passover herbs.  The juice was used as a hair rinse and to stimulate hair growth.  The leaf was used as a snuff powder or as a local application for nosebleeds, excessive menstruation, and internal bleeding.  It is applied to burns and taken in syrup or tincture form to treat urticaria, or nettle rash.  It is, in fact, its own remedy.   Other uses have included the stems and leaves soaked in water and the water used as an organic pesticide, being applied to plants with mites or aphids. The plant enlivens and conditions the soil, speeding decomposition in compost heaps, and improves the health and vigor of plants.

Modern medicinal uses of nettle are not much different than that of the past.  People today still practice urtification, and clinical studies have investigated its use in treating many medical conditions, including allergic rhinitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, anemia, bleeding (both internally and externally), and acute arthritis.  It is in demand as a treatment for benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), high blood pressure, and urinary tract infections.  It is used in treating skin eruptions and freeze-dried as a treatment for hay fever and allergies.  It is also being promoted as a textile product once again.
by Kassie Vance
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