WALA Plant Library
Synonyms: Nettle, annual nettle, burning nettle
Scientific Name: Urtica urens L.
Family: Urticaceae (stinging nettle plants)
HabitatThe nettle is found all over the world except in the Arctic, India and South Africa.
Flavonoids, chlorophylls, carotinoids, vitamins, mineral salts, beta-sitosterin, plant acids and amines in the stinging hairs (histamine).
In most cases it is felt first before it is seen. The nettle lives up to its name. Virtually everybody has had first hand experience of the red rash on the skin after coming into contact with the nettle with its stinging hairs. This has not exactly made it popular and it is immediately eradicated from the garden as an uninvited guest. What is generally overlooked in treating it in this way is that there is not just one type of nettle; both the large perennial stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and the small nettle have medicinal uses. The annual small nettle is slighter and more delicate in form but more aggressive in its effect. The leafy plant flowers from May to November with rather inconspicuous small greenish-white flowers, which are arranged in hanging heads and are pollinated by the wind. They prefer a nitrogen-rich soil, indicating this by their thick growth on such soil. They grow rampantly and stubbornly where the gardener does not want them but, on the other hand, are difficult to cultivate.
Nettle leaves stimulate the whole metabolism and are therefore often added to teas to counteract rheumatism and gout, gall-bladder and liver disorders, as well as to some for detoxification cures. The tea promotes urine excretion and the roots alleviate prostate problems in men. In homoeopathy, a product for nettle rash and other skin rashes accompanied by burning and itching is made from the whole of the flowering plant. It is also used for mild burns and sunburn, rheumatism, gout and to improve urinary flow. The priests, Kneipp and Künzele, advocates of natural healing, also recommended so-called "urtication". To alleviate rheumatic pain and lumbago the affected parts of the body were whipped with nettles.
Nettles are used in bath additives, lotions and soaps on account of the deodorising effect of chlorophyll, which they contain in abundance.
Nettle seeds stimulate the body’s functions and have a restorative effect. They help in cases of a lack of vitality, chronic tiredness and stress.
The nettle owes its common and scientific name (Urtica = burning) to its well-known property of stinging the skin. The word "nettle", which derives from an old Indogermanic word "nazza" = to sew, comes from the times before the introduction of cotton when nettle fabric was made of stinging nettle fibres. The German word "Nessel" and the Dutch word "netel" are also derived from the word "nazza" for sewing.
The first shoots of the nettle in the spring were always used in "Neunkräutersuppe" (nine herb soup), consumption of which heathen countryfolk of old associated with the life forces of nature waking up. In its fresh green colour the Celts saw the embodiment of the Green Man. As the partner of the earth goddess he fought the icy winter king with the woods, pastures and fields. With the help of the nettle, winter lethargy and scurvy were warded off. In many areas in Germany this soup is still known today by the name "Gründonnerstagsuppe". Blood purifying cures of this kind were common up to the 20th century. As the nettle and other spring herbs increase the flow of urine and sweating and loosen the mucus in the lungs and promote bowel movements, they were regarded as suitable agents for promoting the flow of juices again.
The German folk name "Donnernessel" (thunder nettle) indicates its significance in mythology. Nettles were the symbol of the thunder and lightning god Thor. In order to avoid being struck by lightning, in the Middle Ages people threw a bunch of nettles over the roof of their dwellings and hoped they would show the lightning the way to the earth spirits.
The Greek poet Ovid was writing about nettle seeds as an aphrodisiac 2000 years ago. Then a mixture of pepper and nettle seeds was recommended to increase virility.
As a weed, Urtica (= burning) follows us everywhere and crowds around our houses. Therefore as a healing plant we always have it close to hand. Although not possessed of striking beauty itself, the nettle is always swarmed around by the most beautiful butterflies. The caterpillars of the small tortoiseshell, of the peacock butterfly and of the red admiral feed from its leaves.
Use in Skin Care and Remedies
In WALA medicines the nettle is used e.g. in preparations against skin changes involving itching (e.g. Urtica comp.*). Against burns, insect bites and grazes it is used in Wound and burn gel*.
* Prescribing information for the preparations mentioned (the indications are derived from the anthroposophical understanding of man and nature):
Urtica comp., Globuli velati
Stimulation of the rhythmic balance between anabolic and catabolic processes in exudative and allergic diathesis of the skin, e.g. eczema, inflammatory skin conditions (dermatitis), itching. Contains sucrose (saccharose/sugar) and lactose.
Wund- und Brandgel
First and second degree burns and scalds, sunburn, allergic-hyperergic skin disorders (dermatoses), insect bites, abrasions and ulcers. In the case of second degree burns (with blistering) in children, evaluation by a doctor is necessary if the affected area is larger than the palm of the hand (1% of the body surface area).
For information on risks and side-effects please read the pack insert and ask your doctor or pharmacist.