Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a plant found in the United States and continents such as Asia and Europe. It is a stout shrub that grows relatively close to the ground where it prefers forested, mountainous terrain with wet soil.
While some parts of this plant have many beneficial medicinal uses, coming into contact with its prickly, glossy green leaves can cause a burning rash; hence the name, stinging nettle.
“The hairs, or spines, of the stinging nettle are normally very painful to the touch,” explain researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “When they come into contact with a painful area of the body, however, they can actually decrease the original pain.”
Experts say the nettle is able to thwart pain signals by confusing neurological receptors, therefore effectively dulling sensitivity to injury. It is also thought to decrease the amount of inflammatory chemicals the body releases as a response to pain and other triggers.
It is said that stinging nettle has been used for centuries to aid in relieving joint and muscle pain, as well as cases of eczema, arthritis, anemia and gout.
In Europe, stinging nettle is commonly used to treat Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) in conjunction with other herbs, like saw palmetto. The plant works by reducing urinary inflammation and alleviating the overwhelming, uncomfortable urge to constantly urinate.
“These symptoms are caused by the enlarged prostate gland pressing on the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder),” explains the University of Maryland.
Although stinging nettle offers relief for many symptoms associated with prostate complications, it does not reduce the size of the prostate or cure the actual illness.
“Scientists aren’t sure why nettle root reduces symptoms,” university officials add. “It may be because it contains chemicals that affect hormones (including testosterone and estrogen), or because it acts directly on prostate cells.”
Nettle extract in the form of a capsule supplement has also shown to effectively curb signs of hay fever, which include itching, sneezing and sinus inflammation. Scientists and researchers believe that nettle root is able to block a majority of the body’s response to the environmental allergens which cause the release of histamine reactors.
Different parts of the plant are harvested depending on the condition it is being used to treat. For example, many times the root is said to be used for relieving swelling and common issues germane to painful prostate conditions. Stinging nettle can be sold in the form of tablets, dried or freeze dried leaves, capsules, liquid extract and as a tincture with alcohol. For joints and muscle aches, a rubbing ointment is available.
Stinging nettle is considered a natural diuretic, stimulating bladder and kidney function to flush out liquids faster. Because of this, some scientists suggest that taking stinging nettle can interfere with how well other medicines may be absorbed by the blood-stream and circulated through the body.
Hair is another aspect of human health that appears to benefit from the use of stinging nettle. Taking stinging nettle in capsule form or made with tea is said to help hair growth and improve follicle strength. According to Medical News Today, stinging nettle is able to block the conversion of testosterone to DHT (dihydrotestosterone) that inhibits hair follicles from absorbing protein, which ultimately causes them to die and disappear.