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Nettle Tea Benefits and Warnings

author image Emily Shetler
Emily Shetler writes and edits stories about beauty, travel and health. She's also a hair stylist. Recently, she edited a book about the business of hair styling, which was basically her dream job. Her work has appeared in Time Out New York, Travel + Leisure, and Tips on Healthy Living, among others.
Nettle Tea Benefits and Warnings
Small glass mug with nettle tea. Photo Credit MKucova/iStock/Getty Images

Have you ever been stung by a nettle? It's hard to forget that burning sensation, the pain and burning from hives and blisters. Stinging nettles are found all over the world, and bloom every year. It's almost impossible to get away from the invasive plant.

What Is Nettle Tea?

In one of those strange-but-true twists of nature, it turns out that the plant that can cause you so much harm could be the very solution to treating your problems. The stinging nettle, Latin name, Urtica dioica, has been used medicinally since at least 3 B.C. In medieval times, it was used to treat pain in joints, as well as act as a diuretic. Today, nettle root is used to treat urinary problems associated with an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia), urinary tract infections and hay fever. Nettle leaf, meanwhile, is most commonly used to treat pain, osteoarthritis, allergies and hay fever. The leaves and stems can be eaten in a salad, cooked into soup or made into a tea, but the nettle root is more likely to be extracted with alcohol to make a tincture, dried and taken in capsules, or dried and made into a tea. The plant has few known side effects, but as with any medicinal preparation, you may want to consult a health care practitioner before adding nettles to your diet or treatment plan.

Nettle Tea Benefits

Nettle tea affects the kidneys directly. "Nettle is a diuretic. [It] increases urine output and removal of uric acid (under physician supervision). Thus it can be useful for edema, inflammatory arthritis or gout," says naturopath Dr. Robert Kachko, ND, LAc. Studies show that by combining nettle with saw palmetto, patients can find relief from urinary problems. In addition to affecting the kidneys, "nettle has many constituents and is considered one of our most nutritive herbs, we call it a 'trophorestorative' for this reason," says Dr. Kachko. "Its main constituents are flavonoids (quercetin, kaempferol), carotenoids, Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Vitamin K1, triterpenes, sterols and minerals." Ten grams of nettle contains 290 milligrams of calcium and 86 milligrams of magnesium. In comparison, 10 grams of raw spinach contains 10 milligrams of calcium and 8 milligrams of magnesium. If you're no Popeye, try nettle tea for some of your daily nutrition needs.

Nettle Tea for Allergies

Hay fever affects millions of people, and nettle tea is effective in controlling the itching and sneezing typically associated with it. A study at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine concluded that 58% of the participants who were given freeze-dried nettles for treatment of hay fever experienced a reduction in symptoms. Since over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines can have side effects like drowsiness, seizures and dry mouth, nettle tea is a good alternative for people with sensitivities.

Nettle Tea for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)

The diuretic nature of nettle tea improves kidney function, and as a result can improve the symptoms associated with BPH. It "improves frequency, urgency, urinary flow, and can also lower the sex hormone binding globulin which impacts testosterone levels," says Dr. Kachko. So not only can it potentially improve your kidneys if you have BPH, it might also put your sex life back on track. According to the book "Campbell-Walsh Urology," extracts from the roots of stinging nettle contain phytotherapeutic products made up of plant oils, fatty acid chains, phytosterols and phytoestrogens. These compounds have anti-inflammatory effects, alter growth factors, regulate lipid peroxidation, inhibit 5alpha-reductase and protect the bladder as well as the muscles that control its function.

Nettle Tea for Hair Growth and Skincare

Nettle Tea Benefits and Warnings
Dried nettle can be boiled or steeped in hot water. Photo Credit ratmaner/iStock/Getty Images

There is no medical research to prove that nettle tea promotes hair growth or eliminates acne. However, herbalists do use it for hair growth, claiming the silica in nettles strengthens hair and nails and other properties improve circulation and reduces shedding. Indeed, there are tons of haircare products for thinning hair that contain nettle, so if you're having trouble with your hair and can't find anything to help, it may be worth a shot. The same goes for using nettles in skincare. When included in a topical ointment or even ingested as a tea, nettle may have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects for skin problems like eczema or rashes. According to advocates of the natural remedy, the high amount of chlorophyll in nettles give them alkalinizing and detoxifying properties, potentially making the plant effective for treating acne. The book "Integrative Medicine" says that stinging nettle is useful in the treatment of hives or urticaria. Urtica dioica leaves contain flavonoids -- or bioflavonoids -- like quertecin, which can soothe hives because it stabilizes mast cells that effectively reduces the amount of histamine.

Stinging Nettle for Blood Pressure

In some studies conducted on animals, stinging nettle has been shown to lower blood pressure levels. However, this effect has not yet been shown in human studies. The ability for the herb to lower blood pressure likely occurs because it works as a diuretic in the body, which in turn lowers your systolic blood pressure, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center reports. Because high blood pressure is a serious medical condition, you should not use nettle to treat it unless you have first consulted with a knowledgeable medical professional.

Nettle Tea for Diabetes

There has been some preliminary research regarding the use of nettle tea for treating type-2 diabetes, and a 2011 study did find that it was effective in decreasing interleukin 6 (IL-6) and high sensitive c-reactive protein (hs-CRP) in diabetic patients versus a control group after eight weeks of treatment. Another study discovered that nettles had a significant effect on the glucose levels of people with type 2 diabetes. However, patients should note that researchers studied "taking nettle leaf extract (one 500 mg capsule every 8 hours for 3 months) combined with the conventional oral anti-hyperglycemic drugs", so nettle tea could be a good complementary treatment, especially for pre-diabetics.

Stinging Nettle Tea for Arthritis

A 2013 issue of "Phytomedicine" found that stinging nettle, including the root, when extracted into an oil-based solution, helped reduce inflammation. Great potential for treating arthritis was indicated, but further study is still required. The anti-inflammatory properties of stinging nettles may in fact help those suffering from arthritis. Moreover, a study published in the "Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine" in June 2000 reports that nettle leaf can reduce osteoarthritic pain in the base of the thumb when applied to the painful area.

Nettles for Weight Loss

Although no official studies have been done as of yet regarding the affect of nettle on weight loss, the herb with its cleansing properties may help shed the pounds by effectively ridding the body of unwanted metabolic waste. The reduction of stored waste in muscle tissue and throughout the lymphatic system allows your body to function more productively. Gillian McKeith, author and television show host of “You Are What You Eat,” recommends in her book "Slim for Life" 3 to 4 cups per day of nettle tea as it “boosts metabolism and is a natural appetite suppressant.”

Stinging Nettle and Testosterone

In a 2014 study regarding the negative effects of nicotine on sperm in mice, researchers discovered that increasing the dose of nettle "significantly boosted motility, count, normal morphology of sperm cells, seminiferous tubules diameter, and testosterone in all groups compared to control." Nettle extracts have been touted for bodybuilders because they appear to impact the level of testosterone in the body. There are anecdotal reports that nettle extract also helps to replenish the amount of testosterone in the body, which can be dramatically diminished during a body building workout; however, these claims have not been scientifically verified in humans. As for its effects on the libido, stinging nettle may help in cases of a decreased sex drive due to its ability to keep testosterone active, but this has not been scientifically proven.

Antibacterial and Antifungal Benefits of Nettle Tea

Nettle tea has been touted for its healing properties and, in fact, a 2013 study showed that it did have "potent antibacterial activity." Common in most temperate regions along rivers and lakes, stinging nettle is a plant that also has antifungal properties. According to "Physician's Desk Reference on Herbal Medicines," the stinging nettle's lectin agglutinin. In a study published in the "Journal of Biological Chemistry," lectin agglutinin has chitin-binding properties which result in strong antifungal and mild antibacterial functions.

Nettle Dosage and Consumption

Nettle Tea Benefits and Warnings
Fresh nettle can be harvested and dried. Photo Credit JohnDWilliams/iStock/Getty Images

When you make nettle tea, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, you can drink three to four cups per day, but you should always drink additional water along with the tea. Nettle dry leaf is usually taken as 2 to 4 grams, 3 times daily. You can buy stinging nettle supplements in several forms, including dried leaf, tincture and extract. Nettle creams also are available, but typically are used for treating dermatological conditions. The recommended dose for a nettle supplement depends on the type of supplement you prefer. You can take 2 g to 4 g of the dried leaf up to three times a day. For extracts, the dosage depends on whether it comes from the root or leaf. For root extract, take 1.5 mL three or four times a day. For leaf extract, take 2 mL to 5 mL three times a day. If you prefer a tincture, you can safely take between 1 mL and 4 mL three or four times a day. In his book “Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants,” wild foods author Steve Brill cautions amateur foragers that late-season nettle leaves may contain compounds harmful to the kidneys; gather leaves before they flower. Nettle juice is dark green in color and is usually consumed fresh in 1-ounce portions because the flavor is strong and the nutrient quantity high. You can make nettle juice by juicing only the leaves or the leaves and stem of the plant (juice 4 cups of nettle leaves to make a one-half cup of nettle juice) or by blending the leaves with water (combining 2 cups of nettle leaves with 1 cup of water).

Stinging Nettle Warnings and Usage

Nettle tea is "contraindicated in pregnancy," says Dr. Kachko. It can alter the menstrual cycle, and may contribute to miscarriage. Dr. Kachko warns that people with heart disorders, kidney problems, or hormone-mediated cancers should use caution. "All use should be supervised and approved by a physician," he says. Various studies point to it raising blood sugar levels and others show that it lowers them, so if you are diabetic you should monitor your blood closely. He adds, "Some people can be allergic to nettles, so should start with a very low dose." Like aspirin, stinging nettle may make your blood thinner and reduce its ability to clot, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. Some of the drugs it may interact with include blood thinners, drugs for high blood pressure, water pills, drugs for diabetes, lithium, and NSAIDs.

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