What is a nettle?

Nettle has been used for centuries as an herbal treatment for gout.

The nettle is a type of herbaceous plant that, although it originated in Europe, now grows almost all over the world. In fact, there are several related nettle species that are often named according to where they are found, such as U. californica and U. afghanica . The plant is an evergreen, growing to about three to six feet (0.91-1.82 m), with leaves about one to five inches (2.54-12.7 cm) long. Plant heights reach their maximum in summer and begin to die almost to the ground during late autumn and early winter months. The nettle produces a sting because of the bristly hairs that cover both the stem and the leaves.

Nettle is a herbaceous plant that grows all over the world.

While not similar in appearance to poison oak or poison ivy, skin exposure to nettle can cause similar painful, itchy rashes. A careful approach to prickling the needle and stroking the plant in the direction of its small prickly hairs is unlikely to result in an adverse reaction. The sting associated with nettle contains three chemicals: histamine, acetylcholine and serotonin.

Skin exposure to nettles can cause painful, itchy rashes.

Serotonin and acetylcholine combine to make histamine stronger, creating an allergic reaction in most people who come in contact with mature nettle leaves. The sting can be neutralized with a number of different remedies, which include urinating on the affected area, applying ice, putting mud on a sting shortly after it occurs, or simply washing exposed areas shortly after contact with the plant. Since nettle triggers a histamine response, it can also relieve pain and itching if you take an antihistamine like Benadryl® (diphenhydramine).

See also  What is a cold-blooded horse?

Most drugstores stock a variety of antihistamine medications that are available over-the-counter (OTC).

If you can get through the nettle leaves and handle them properly with safety gloves, nettle makes an excellent addition to your herb cupboard or as a cooked vegetable. Fortunately, crushing, chopping or cooking the plant destroys its stinger, and the tender young leaves can be quite tasty. Many cooks like to add nettle to soups and stews.

Some use nettle to make a tea that relieves pain in the shoulder or knee joints.

Several medicinal uses have been recorded for nettle. One creative use was to sting people to “cure” arthritic reactions and rheumatism. This can be metaphorically similar to hitting your head to cure an upset stomach. The sting and rash may provide a temporary distraction from painful joints, but will likely not cure them. Other earlier records show that nettle was used to treat anemia, eczema and gout.

A doctor should be consulted before using a nettle to treat knee pain.

Today, the plant can be used medicinally to treat ailments that affect the urinary tract when taken internally. Taken internally, nettle can actually provide mild pain relief in conditions like arthritis. There are few clinical studies that “prove” the effectiveness of the plant for any condition. However, if your knee hurts or your shoulder bothers you, a tea made from nettles or a homeopathic cream is unlikely to be harmful, although it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor about possible interactions between medications or medical conditions.

Leave a Comment