scientific name: Urtica dioica
other common names: Common nettle, big string nettle, stinging nettle
growing areas: Temperate regions of the world
physical description: It is a perennial bush that can grow up to 7 feet tall. Its leaves are triangular-shaped and edged with points. It produces a flower that ranges in color from white to yellow. Bristles on the leaves and stems can sting, hence the common name.
traditional uses: The major interest in nettle today is in its use to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate gland, a common condition for men over the age of fifty. It is used in combination with another herb, saw palmetto, for prostate health. But over the ages nettle has had a number of medicinal uses. Dioscorides listed it in his famous book of herbal remedies from the first century as a treatment for nosebleeds. The ancient Greeks used it to treat coughs and arthritis. It has a history of use as an astringent, to treat skin conditions, and as a remedy for baldness. It was also used to promote childbirth and stop uterine bleeding. It is used as a diuretic and as therapy for rheumatism and inflammations of the urinary tract.
availability and dosage: Nettle is available as a capsule and as an extract, powder, or tincture of the root and leaf. Dosages may vary and can range from a recommended intake of one capsule of 100 milligrams a day to a total of 300 milligrams. Teas can be made of up to 2 teaspoons per cup twice a day. Commission E recommends dosages between 8 and 10 grams of the herb and leaf daily and 4 to 6 grams of the root. It is also available as an element in herbal preparations.
contraindications: Commission E reported that no contraindications were known. However, some pharmacists report that nettle is contraindicated in pregnant women because it is a stimulant of uterine contractions. Breast-feeding women should also not use it.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Internal use has been known to cause occasional gastrointestinal upset. The hairs on the plant contain chemicals that can cause severe skin irritation.
medical research: Nettle does not appear to reduce the enlarged prostate gland in humans but rather increases the flow and volume of urine, according to the findings of Commission E. However, some research done in Germany has indicated that nettle inhibits prostatic hyperplasia in mice. In the German experiments, the prostate glands of mice were treated to create prostatic hyperplasia and five preparations of stinging nettle root extract, each prepared with a different method of liquid extraction, were tested. The experiment found that ethanol extracts and water extracts had the greatest effect on inhibiting the growth of the mice prostate glands. However, the researchers were unclear as to how the extracts worked. Another experiment, done in Japan on prostate tissue taken from a human patient suffering from an enlarged gland, suggested that steroids and other components in the stinging nettle roots inhibit prostate cell growth and metabolism.