Stinging nettles, more commonly called nettles, grow wild in most parts of the US, popping up in woodlands, rich soils, partially shaded areas and along river banks. Although there are many different species, they all have similar health benefits. But that’s not all they have—

Nettles are known for the stinging hairs located along the stems. If you try to pick them with bare hands, you’ll feel a very unpleasant burning sting, with redness and skin irritation. However, once picked, you can remove the leaves, chop them (keep wearing gloves) then cook them in the way you would any leafy green vegetable. Once cooked, the stinging action is deactivated. I hear they are tasty creamed, tossed with other vegetables, or added to soups and tomato sauce. I must admit, I’ve never made the real thing myself, although I used to pull them from my gardens in New York. You need to harvest them before they bloom, and I rarely got to them that early.

The easiest way to use this herb is to buy it as a tincture, capsules or tea. Nettles are one of the top spring detox herbs, and often recommended to help detoxify and support your liver. I like to take nettles primarily in the spring as both a detoxifier and tonic, but they’re safe enough to use year-round.

Nettles also help relieve allergies, another big advantage of using them in the spring. Studies have show that nettles act as a gentle antihistamine. You probably need to take the concentrated capsules or tincture to get the best effects. Most studies used freeze-dried herbs in capsule form. Combined with goldenseal in a tincture, it purportedly provides almost immediate relief.

Nettles can be used year-round as a tonic that benefits the whole body, but primarily the stomach, lungs, and urinary tract. It has been used for centuries as a restorative for chronically ill patients. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense herbs, with a high concentration of calcium, magnesium, and iron, along with smaller but still beneficial amounts of manganese, potassium, phosphorus, iodine, silica, sodium and sulfur. Because of this, it strengthens bones, nails, hair and skin. 

This nutritious herb is a great source of chlorophyll, vitamin C, beta carotene and B-vitamins. It contains more protein than any other herb—about 10%—in easily digestible amino acids, making it a useful food for vegans and vegetarians. Due to its high levels of tannins, it also has astringent and diuretic properties. It can reduce water weight, puffiness and heavy menstrual bleeding. The iron content helps prevent anemia if you suffer from heavy or frequent periods.

Nettles can also be applied externally. Dried, powdered nettles can be sprinkled on a wound to stop the bleeding or applied to the scalp (either dry or in a tea) to stimulate hair growth. Similar to bee stings, the fresh herb can intentionally be applied to arthritic joints. The stinging action and irritation somehow reduce arthritic pain. (Maybe because the focus is elsewhere!)

Don’t feel like causing yourself intentional or unintentional pain handling the fresh herb?  Then sit back and have a cup of nettle tea. Some people like the grassy taste, but if you don’t, you can easily mask it by combining the tea with others you prefer, like mint, ginger, or chai tea. I’m sipping a cup right now to help me get through spring allergy season.


Bobbi Mullins, April 28, 2015


Brill, S. and Dean, E. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants. 1994. New York: Harper.

Groves, M. Herbal Super Infusions to the Rescue! 2015. Herb Quarterly. 

Groves, M. Medicine Chest: Herbs and Seasonal Allergies. 2015. Herb Quarterly.

Tierra, M. The Way of Herbs. 1980. New York: Pocket Books

© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™