Nettle: For Allergies & More

Spring is here. The days are warmer, the sun is brighter, birds are singing, and allergy season is close at hand. Sure, some people sneeze and wheeze all winter long due to exposure to dust, mites and environmental molds. But most people who experience allergies do so when the air is rich with microscopic granules of pollen. Enter nettle, an old and effective remedy that just might save you during allergy season.

Click here to watch "The Medicine Hunter" discuss the many uses of nettle

What Is Nettle?

Nettle leaf or herb consists of the dried or fresh aerial parts of Urtica dioica or Urtica urens. Nettle leaf derives from the common plant Urtica dioica. Known variously as nettle, stinging nettle, dog nettle, California nettle, dwarf nettle, the plant imparts a plethora of sharp stings when you brush up against it. In many instances in herbal guide books, nettle leaf is not referred to or recommended separately from the whole plant. Most often, herbals refer to nettle as the whole plant, and describe its uses accordingly.

Allergy Reliever

Whether used purely in leaf form, or including other plant parts, nettle enjoys a history of use for relieving allergies. One of the simplest ways to benefit from nettle is to make a tea (an infusion) the way you would with peppermint or chamomile or any other common herbal "tea." You simply boil water; pour it over the herb in a cup or pot, steep five minutes, strain and drink. You can find nettle tea loose or even in bags, and so can utilize this herb very easily. Teapot medicine is one of the oldest and all-around most effective ways to benefit from medicinal plants. In fact, the vast and complex system of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is also known as "teapot medicine."

Many Other Uses

Nettle's uses are broader than allergy relief. Germany's Commission E and the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy recommend nettle leaf or herb specifically for treatment of rheumatic conditions and relieving inflammation in the urinary tract. The British Herbal Compendium recommends nettle leaf or herb as a mild diuretic and as a hemostatic (to check blood flow). The great botanist Dr. James Duke cites a multitude of therapeutic uses for nettle, which are listed here. In only a few instances does Dr. Duke specify leaf or herb versus the whole plant. He recommends use of nettle for allergies (leaf), Alzheimer's disease, arthritis (leaves), asthma, baldness (leaves), bladder infections, bronchitis, bursitis, cough (leaves), gingivitis, gout, hives, kidney stones, laryngitis, multiple sclerosis, PMS, enlarged prostate (roots), sciatica, and tendonitis. One curious fact about nettle is that it is rich in the mineral silica. Because of this, nettle helps to make hair, skin and nails more strong and lustrous.

Medicinal History

Nettle leaf or the whole plant has been used in traditional folk medicine as an astringent, a diuretic, and a tonic herb. Internally nettle has been employed to treat anemia, uterine hemorrhage, excessive menstruation, hemorrhoids, arthritis, rheumatism, gout and skin eruptions. Topically, preparations of nettle have been employed to relieve arthritic pain, gout, sciatica, neuralgia, hemorrhoids, scalp and hair problems, burns and insect bites and stings.

Nettle was used during the time of Hippocrates to treat bites and stings, and European herbalists employed nettle tea for respiratory disorders. Native Americans employed nettle for a plethora of purposes, including as a snuff for nosebleeds, an analgesic and anti-rheumatic, as an herbal steam to relieve pain, as a whip to relieve rheumatic pain, as an infusion to aid delivery, as a poultice applied to aching joints, as a decoction or infusion for various bladder and urinary disorders, as an inhalant for grippe or pneumonia, as an infusion for fevers, as a general tonic, a hair wash, and to relieve skin inflammations.

Habitat & Cultivation

Nettle is found widely throughout North America and Europe, where it grows abundantly as a weed. The leaves and stems are covered with stinging hairs, thus the name stinging nettle. The plant grows commonly in ditches, thickets, fields and pastures. Typically the whole plant is harvested, as the root is therapeutically valuable. Nettle is typically dried prior to preparation as a medicine, but fresh nettle is also be juiced or extracted for therapeutic purposes.

How It Works

Though nettle's therapeutic activities aren't completely understood, the plant contains a variety of antioxidant compounds that protect cells and enhance tissue health. The plant also contains a number of anti-inflammatory compounds, which may account for its multiple uses for treating inflammation. The plant is also rich in minerals of value to skin and hair, which may explain its beneficial uses for both. Nettle also contains diuretic agents and phytochemicals that help to control bleeding.

Some science shows:

  • In a study of 152 patients suffering from various rheumatic diseases, 70% experienced improvement after ingesting 1.54 grams daily of dried nettle herb extract.
  • In a study of heart patients and those suffering from insufficient circulation, nettle juice promoted urinary flow.
  • A preliminary double-blind placebo-controlled study following 69 individuals suggests that freeze-dried nettle leaf may at least slightly improve allergy symptoms.
  • One small double-blind study suggests that direct application of stinging nettle leaf to a painful joint may improve symptoms.

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at