Nettle leaf is a non-toxic plant leaf that commonly is used to make tea. It also can be steamed as an edible green that is rich in protein, iron, and minerals, or it may be dried or freeze-dried. Capsules made from nettle leaf are commonly used to treat arthritis, anemia, eczema, gout, and muscle and joint pain. Leaves can be made into a compost tea that may be used as a nitrogen-rich plant food as well.
Most people who are familiar with nettle leaves are acquainted with the sting they leave on the person unfortunate enough to brush against the plant. Also known as “stinging nettle,” the plant grows wild in partly shaded woodland areas with fertile soil. Many gardeners strategically locate their gardens in an area nettles prefer because the presence of nettles indicates nutritious soil, and nettle leaves distract insect pests that may otherwise eat garden plants.
Historically, nettle leaf has been used for thousands of years to increase energy, act as a diuretic, and ease muscle and joint pain. Some cultures also used nettle leaf to treat menstrual problems. In recent years, some studies have shown a decrease in joint pain in arthritis sufferers when nettle leaf was applied to the skin. When leaf extract was combined with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), many patients were able to decrease their NSAID dosage. More studies are needed to confirm the results, but initial findings and testimonials may be promising. An unrelated study found that nettle capsules helped reduce symptoms of hay fever.
Some people use the stinging nettle leaves to reduce pain as well. It is thought that the chemicals released into the skin from the nettle can boost the body's anti-inflammatory response and reduce pain, especially arthritis-related pain. The tiny needles growing on nettle leaves release formic acid, serotonin, histamine, and other chemicals when they come into contact with human skin.
Some very promising studies on Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) also found that nettle reduced urinary difficulties. Nettle worked as well as finasteride, the generally accepted drug used to treat the condition. However, these studies focused on nettle root, which appears to have different effects than the leaves.
When nettle is processed for use as a tea, cooked as a green, or dried, the stinging needles are deactivated, rendering it safe for comfortable consumption. There are mild side effects in some people. These may include skin irritation when nettle leaf is applied to the skin, or mild upset stomach when taken internally. Since nettle leaf may have powerful effects, it may interact with some medications, so a doctor should be consulted before consuming the plant.