Stinging Nettles Sting, But Can They Be Beneficial?
Written By: Sue
March 12, 2013
Benefits of Stinging Nettles
Every once in a while I want to write about a remedy that has uses beyond the sinuses. There is no better reason to deviate from that than to discuss the benefits of stinging nettles (Urtica dioica).
My partner, who is an herbalist and midwife, brought a bunch of nettles into the house the one morning. The nettles were 4 feet in height and she’d gathered enough to make it look like a giant bouquet. I had just woken up and my heart started to pound. While I was thinking about taking a shower, she asked if I wanted to be flogged with nettles. If you’ve never heard of this before, you might think she was slightly crazy. After all, isn’t that a plant most people avoid when walking through tall weeds and grasses? Doesn’t it create severe itching and a red rash like hives?
Yes, yes and yes, BUT that doesn’t mean it is bad for you! Nettles, like many plants that are categorized as ‘weeds’, have a bad reputation. Weeds are seen as invasive since they grow where they’re not wanted, and in the case of stinging nettles, cause skin irritation. What could be worse, right? Walt Whitman said, “a weed is a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” I disagree, because most of these ‘weeds’ have a long history of medicinal use.
Nettles grow abundantly in Europe and North America and are used for a number of ailments including anxiety, sinusitis, arthritis and diuresis. They are typically taken orally by steeping the dried or fresh leaves in hot water for a tea, or as a prepared tincture or herbal supplement. So why would anyone want to be flogged with nettles if you can take it in a more desirable form? One reason is because nettles are an incredible anxiety and arthritis reducer. The tea, in comparison, works over time but doesn’t have the same immediate effect.
So, how does someone get flogged with nettles? First, you develop nerves of steel. Then you smile at the person applying the nettles hoping they have nice thoughts about you and are not holding a grudge. Initially, it isn’t a pleasant sensation because of the itching. I have a low back problem so I had my partner apply the nettles there. At first it felt like it was being scrubbed with a scrub brush. Almost immediately I felt the itching and then when I’d had enough I ran back to bed and pulled the covers over myself. WOW!! I couldn’t believe the intensity of it. I felt like my back would crash through my chest, but within 3 minutes, most of the itching subsided and my body relaxed deeply. I fell asleep for 20 minutes and when I awoke I couldn’t believe how calm I felt. I thought maybe it was because of the anxiety created from the itching, but my relaxation lasted all day.
After researching the uses of nettles, I found a bountiful history. Before we started spraying herbicides on this misunderstood plant, it was used for a number of ailments. The Egyptians used it for lumbago pain. In medieval Europe, it was used to treat arthritis and to rid the body of excess water (diuretic). The Irish make it into a soup because it’s a blood tonic, rich in iron. And today, nettles are sold in German pharmacies as treatment for prostate disease.
As far as sinus conditions go, nettles have been ingested to reduce hay fever symptoms. Some modern day herbalists believe it has the ability to reduce the histamine response of the body triggered by an allergen. In other words, your nose won’t get congested because nettles have antihistamine properties to minimize any reaction the body may have to an allergen.
Here is a great article rich in details about nettles.
Being flogged with nettles isn’t for everyone. It isn’t something you can do on your lunch break at work or in your car driving home; however, if you have 30 minutes on a weekend morning, you might give it a try. Dare I say- I dare you?!