(Urtica dioica L.) Nettle is a perennial plant reaching up to 1.5m in height. Its stem is abundantly leafy, its leaves coarsely dentate and dark green, and the whole plant is all covered with stinging hairs. How did it happen that the herbal raw material that is so unpleasant to the touch has won over our hearts?
Common nettle is a perennial plant of the family Urticaceae, commonly found almost all over the globe, mainly in the temperate climate zone.
Nettle grows almost everywhere – in ditches and forest clearings, near houses – in Poland. Stinging nettle can be found at every turn! Nettle stems and leaves are harvested two or even three times a year per one plant, which makes it a very efficient raw material. Interestingly, common nettle is mostly obtained not from cultivation, but from stands where it grows naturally.
The herbal raw material from nettle is obtained by cutting the plant in whole before it starts to flower.
Although nettle leaves demonstrate the most important health-promoting characteristics, the whole nettle plant and nettle juice are also used in herbal medicine. After cutting, nettles are left in the field for one or two days so they wilt a bit. Naturally, the question that springs to our minds is: what for? The answer is quite simple: so that they sting less! Only once wilted, nettle leaves are picked, placed in baskets and dried.
Nettle is a real treasure trove of substances that our body needs to function properly.
Nettle is considered to be one of the most valuable plants used in phytotherapy because of its chemical composition. It is characterised by high contents of vitamins (mainly vitamin A, C and F and B vitamins), mineral components and other valuable substances, such as organic acids, herbal dyes and essential oil, as well as minerals (mainly iron). Nettle has a wide variety of useful properties, which is probably the reason why our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were so frequently spotted cooking a nettle soup!
Nettle is considered a ‘blood cleanser’ which supports the function of the urinary system.
Although nettle products increase the daily urine output only slightly, they inhibit reabsorption to significantly improve clearance of waste products from the body, including urea or chlorides. Due to these properties, nettle is one of the most important ‘blood cleansing’ raw materials. At the same time, it fights water retention in the body and contributes to proper functioning of the urinary system.
Nettle leaves contain substances that support digestive processes.
Products made with nettle leaves stimulate the secretion of gastric juice, facilitate digestion and absorption of food, and support normal metabolic processes. Moreover, nettle stimulates the production of pancreatic enzymes and has a role in the production of bile in the liver.
Nettle strengthens the body.
Nettle offers a rich mixture of vitamins and minerals – that is why it is used in children, adolescents and the elderly suffering from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Due to its high content of iron, nettle contributes primarily to the production of red blood cells and haemoglobin. For this reason, nettle infusions are recommended for pregnant women and anaemia patients.
The ‘cosmetic’ properties of nettle are also worth bearing in mind.
Nettle-based cosmetic products are used for skin and hair with a tendency for oiliness. Nettle strengthens hair bulbs, reduces hair loss, and can also fight dandruff. Hair treated with nettle rinses become soft, bouncy and shiny. Drinking nettle infusions promotes good health of the skin, hair and nails.
Common nettle was once thought to be a magic plant.
The power of nettle was supposed to rely on an unbending ability to overcome fear or catch fish by hand – believe us that this was once a greatly appreciated skill. On St. John’s Day eve, it was hanged at gates and entrances to huts to protect the inhabitants from demons. Nettle bundles left out in sowed fields protected them from magic spells, whereas burning nettles before a storm came dispersed clouds and repelled lightning strikes. Young nettle leaves were added to salads or cooked to make a soup... wait a minute, this is what some of us still do today.