Clinical Applications of Stinging Nettle
August 1, 2012
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica [Fam. Urticaceae]) is a perennial herb native to Europe, and is characterized by square stems, lance-shaped leaves with serrated margins, and clusters of small green floral structures. All parts of the plant bristle with stinging hairs. The genus name Urtica is derived from the Latin urere, when translated means “to burn,” due to its urticate (stinging) hairs. The species name diocia means “two houses,” because its male and female flowers are borne on separate plants.
The tiny sharp stinging hairs which densely cover the leaves and stems act as miniature syringes that inject a mixture of histamine, formic acid, and acetycholine into the skin; these irritating chemicals cause burning, itching, and even blistering to the skin. The plant active constituents include polysaccharides that are largely responsible for its anti-inflammatory action, and various flavonoids, which have been shown to exhibit strong diuretc action.
Traditional Medicinal Uses
Stinging nettle (herb and leaf) has been used as a medicine since ancient times. The Greek physicians Dioscorides (first century A.D.) and Galen (ca. 130-200 A.D.) used nettle for its diuretic and laxative action. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (ca. 23-79 A.D.) reported its use as a counter irritant and effective remedy for chronic rheumatic pain, muscle paralysis, and sciatica.
Current Medicinal Uses
In Germany, clinical trials have demonstrated that dried stem and leaf nettle extract taken internally is effective in addressing pain associated with rheumatic complaints. Further studies indicate that nettle preparations enhance the activity of a prescription anti-inflammatory drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Stinging nettle herb is also licensed as a standard medicinal tea for diuretic action. In the United States, stinging nettle herb is used as a component in the formulation of herbal dietary supplements for addressing hayfever and other allergies.
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