Precautions

Nettle is very safe. It is even safe for children and pregnant women, though topical application is not. People with allergies or severe reactions to the stings should not use the herb.

Do not use nettle to treat an acute kidney stone attack or a bladder infection without close monitoring by a health care professional. Both conditions can be serious and nettle alone cannot resolve these problems.

Nettle is a herb that delivers a painful sting, so hikers tend to steer clear of it. But the leaves of this prickly plant pack a range of health-benefiting properties. Here's how this natural herb can be used as an alternative medicine.

Healing Properties

Nettle is particularly effective as a diuretic, so it helps prevent most types of kidney stones as well as urinary tract infections. By keeping water flowing through the kidneys and bladder, nettle helps keep crystals from forming into stones and washes bacteria away.

Nettle is distinctly different from diuretic drugs. These drugs are often used to reduce high blood pressure and edema (swelling from excessive fluid), but studies have not shown nettle to help either of these conditions. It's unclear why this is the case. It may be that the herb works differently than diuretic drugs, or it may simply be that the correct research has not yet been done.

Nettle leaves can also help reduce the pain of arthritis. In one preliminary study, nettle leaf juice was as effective at reducing the pain of various types of arthritis as anti-inflammatory drugs. In another study, nettle leaf juice enhanced the effects of the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in people with osteoarthritis.

In addition to drinking nettle leaf tea or juice, an old tradition for relieving the pain of arthritis is to apply fresh leaves over aching joints. Though this initially causes increased pain from the stings, it ultimately relieves inflammation and pain. This effect may be the result of something known as the "gate phenomenon."

When the skin over a painful joint is stung, the spinal cord reduces pain signals coming from the joint underneath. Two studies have now shown that the application of topical nettle stings is in fact helpful for relieving arthritis pain for those who can tolerate the initial discomfort. Taking nettle by mouth in any of its forms, including capsules or tinctures, is also helpful for arthritis.

Preparation and Dosage

Drinking nettle leaf tea or juice is the best way to use nettles for diuretic purposes. To make tea, combine 2 to 3 teaspoons dried leaf (which doesn't sting) with 1 cup hot water, and allow to steep 10 to 15 minutes. Drink 1 cup tea three times per day. If you prefer to drink juice, take 1 to 2 ounces fresh nettle leaf juice three times per day.

Another option is to take capsules providing 2 to 3 grams of the herb or 5 mL tincture or glycerite three times per day. To apply topically, put 2 to 3 fresh leaves on small joints such as the fingers and elbows or 4 to 6 fresh leaves on larger joints such as knees and ankles two to three times per day. Remove them a minute or two after application, once multiple stings have occurred. Fresh leaves can be reused, as long as they keep stinging and don't rot.

Storage

Dried nettle leaf should be stored in an airtight container, away from light and heat. It will last as long as a year if protected. Fresh leaves to use for topical stings are difficult to come by. You must either grow them in the garden or have a nearby source to harvest them from the wild. Keep fresh nettles in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

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