If you’ve ever wandered through a patch of stinging nettles without leg coverings you may have some misgivings about the plant’s intentions. It is not a pleasant experience, but it turns out that the effects of stinging nettle are not necessarily bad.
Some people even go out of their way to get stung by stinging nettles. And it’s not a new trend.
It’s said that Roman soldiers used to deliberately sting their legs with stinging nettles. They’d whip themselves with nettles to stimulate circulation and give relief to their tired, painful legs on long marches. It’s a practice called urtication. Apparently Romans weren’t the only ones to do this. On the other side of the globe a number of North and South American indigenous nations reportedly used stinging nettles in a similar way. In this case it was to help them stay awake when pulling guard duty. source
Using stinging nettles as a health treatment by actually stinging the skin has other surprising effects. In one case a UK man credited stinging nettles for helping him get rid of his hayfever. This story was reported in May 2019 by the Cambridge Shire Live News: “Goran Pavlovic claims he hasn’t been troubled by hayfever in three years after stinging himself.
“A few years ago,” Pavlovic said, “an old man (crazy old man according to my wife) told me to try nettles.
“Basically, as soon as the spring starts, he told me, and the first nettles sprout out, pick a bunch and sting myself with them.
“Do that once a week until the end of autumn. Apparently this would make my immune system concentrate on nettles and forget about the pollen…To my wife’s horror and the amusement of the fellow walkers in parks and forests, I soon started the “therapy”. source
Another reported stinging nettle sting story comes from Dr. James A Duke Ph D.
“Back in the good old days,” says Dr. Duke, ” I played bass fiddle in a a five-member band. At that time, three of our band members or their relatives were using an herb known as stinging nettle to relieve arthritis pain. Although stinging nettle does cook up into a tasty vegetable, these musicians weren’t eating it. Rather, they were stinging themselves with it by grasping the plant in a gloved hand and then swatting their stiff, swollen joints. Our banjo player kept a plant in his kitchen so he could self-urticate when his arthritis flared up. The guitar player’s mother-in-law was unable to write because of arthritis in her hands, but the sting of the nettle improved that. The fiddle player’s mother soon had stinging nettle taking over her garden and said her arthritis was much improved.” source
The above type of treatment is not generally advisable as some people may not fare well with nettle rash.
I wondered if the external application of stinging nettles had been the subject of any academic studies. And if so what were the documented merits to this type of treatment.
The search I conducted on the subject turned up an interesting study published in June 2000 by the Royal Society of Medicine (UK). A randomized controlled study found that one week’s treatment with nettle sting to an achy thumb joint resulted in significant pain relief compared to a placebo. source
Further reading and research on the subject revealed that fortunately you don’t need to sting yourself in order to benefit from this amazing plant.
Stinging nettles offer many benefits even when they aren’t stinging a person.
In her book, Stinging Nettles — Queen of Herbs, herbalist Mary Ann Mehegan recounts the story of how her mother found relief from arthritic pain by using stinging nettles but getting stung was not necessary.
Having studied herbalism Mary Ann was familiar with the healing properties of stinging nettles. When her mother complained of an achy knee Mary Ann suggested applying her new found knowledge to see if it might help. Mary Ann found a patch of wild nettles growing beside a nearby forest. She cut some of the nettles and brought them home. After making a poultice she applied the nettles to her mother’s knee with a warm damp cloth, occasionally applying pressure. After an hour of this treatment her mother found that the pain was gone. Both mother and daughter were surprised that it had worked so fast. Even more wonderful is that her mother reported that the joint pain in that knee never returned.
Some plants that have traditionally been used to treat specific ailments have proven difficult to study. Scientists have not clearly identified how echinacea or ginkgo biloba provide some of the results attested to by anecdotal evidence. This difficulty is often due to the fact that studying the health benefits usually means isolating a particular phytochemical from the plant and understanding how it acts on human cells. When the benefits are not the result of one or two phytochemicals it becomes extremely difficult to isolate results. Herbal healing can be the result of the synergistic result of multiple phytochemicals acting on the body, perhaps on a number of different parts of the body.
Fortunately stinging nettles have yielded up some of their secrets in more than one scientific study.
We have the scientific proof, in addition to anecdotal evidence, that nettles are indeed a herb which endows many benefits. Research papers which describe the action of stinging nettles on the body give us an understanding as to why nettles are such an amazing healing herb.
If you are interested in reading further about this then check out a study published in 2017 which sheds light on the chemical composition and immuno-modulatory effects of urtica dioica L. (Stinging Nettle). It can be found in Phytotherapy Research Volume 31, Issue 8.
Benefits of Nettle Tea
Stinging nettle is an ingredient in many of our teas here at Nourishing Herbs. Not only are the benefits it yields for overall well-being abundant, it complements a number of other herbs that might be a little overpowering on their own.
One of our goals is to not only provide teas that support well-being but to make sure that the teas are rich in flavour and enjoyable. Ideally without the need for any sweetening.
Nettle tea on its own has a herbaceous taste that some compare to an earthy, sweet version of seaweed.
Stinging nettles have long been used as a tea to treat pain and sore joints. The Arthritis Foundation suggests that nettle tea is useful in reducing the inflammation and pain associated with osteoarthritis.
In Lithuanian folk medicine, nettle made from the entire plant was used to treat atrophy.
Nettles were used in American medicine which made use of botanical remedies in the latter half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Preparations from nettle leaf and root were used as a blood purifier, styptic, stimulating tonic and diuretic to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, discharges, chronic diseases of the colon and chronic skin eruptions . Syrup made from the juice of root or leaves was said to relieve bronchial and asthmatic troubles .
In African medicine, nettle root is used to treat diarrhoea and as an anthelmintic to expel intestinal worms. Nettle root was first used in urinary tract disorders in the 1950s.
The German “Commission E” approved the use of nettle root for problems in urination in benign prostatic adenoma stages I and II .
The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia reported prostatic action (BHP 1996). According to the wording of the British Herbal Compendium, nettle root is suitable for the symptomatic treatment of micturition disorders in the early stages of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) .
The French Herbal Remedies Notice to Applicants for Marketing Authorization allows two uses of nettle root: as an adjunctive treatment for the bladder outlet obstruction symptoms of prostatic origin, and to enhance the renal elimination of water .
ESCOP indicates its use for symptomatic treatment of micturition disorders (nocturia, pollakisuria, dysuria, urine retention) in BPH at stages I and II . In the USA, it is used similarly, although as a dietary supplement. source
As always we advise consulting your health care physician before undergoing any treatment. Care should especially be taken if you are taking blood thinners, blood pressure medication, diuretics (water pills), diabetes medication, or lithium. The information given on this site is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal circumstances and should not be taken as medical advice.
Given a choice between using a tea bag or not I will choose to not use a tea bag.
It’s one of those things I find I can do without.
As a matter of fact, I prefer it. Much of the time I don’t even use an infuser. I simply toss the loose leaf tea or herbs in my mug and pour in the hot water. Call me uncivilised, but it tastes great and I think it is no less convenient.
Having opted for no tea bag for years now I have found that I can definitely taste the difference. If ever I am offered tea that has been brewed using a tea bag I can tell the difference immediately. I find that tea bags themselves not only affect the flavour of the tea but it’s a well known fact that the tea used in teabags is often inferior in quality to loose leaf tea.
Consult any tea specialist and they will confirm that whole leaf tea produces the finest-quality tea, while fannings and dust are generally used to make the quick-brewing teas.
Guess which type is used in almost all tea bags? Tea dust and broken leaves.
The rise in use of tea bags is attributed to a coffee and tea broker by the name of Thomas Sullivan. He figured it would be a cheaper way to send out samples, ready for tasting. Prior to that he’d been sending out tea samples in small tins. Sullivan’s innovation quickly took off and he began producing tea bags for sale. In a way this “discovery” was as serendipitous as the discovery of tea itself. Chinese legend holds that tea was discovered when in the third millennium BC some leaves accidentally drifted into a bowl of hot water sitting by the Emperor’s window. As unlikely as that may be it has a theme of effortlessness and convenience. This motif is retained in the essence of tea and the ceremonies surrounding it.
In A History of Tea (2018) Laura C Martin informs us that from the beginning tea bags were problematic. The release of flavour was hampered by the lack of sufficient space for the tea leaves’ expansion. A half way decent solution was not found until 1952, when tea bags had already been in use for many years. It was then that the Lipton Tea company came up with a new patented tea bag, the “Flo-Thru”. Other solutions were derived, and various shapes of tea bag were marketed all in an attempt to solve the problem but the heart of the matter was that low quality tea would have to mostly be sold in tea bags.
As we know all too well when product decisions are made by a corporation the end result is very likely to be for the benefit of the corporation’s bottom line. Tea bags facilitate the sale of tea dust.
While many defend their use of tea bags with the argument that it is a time saving device it’s more a question of habit.
Once you experience the taste of loose whole leaf tea you’ll quickly figure out a way to ditch the tea bag. It doesn’t take any more time to make a cup of tea with loose leaves than it would with a tea bag.
The Myth of Convenience
How often have so called short cuts resulted in unforeseen problems? I could name so many examples that I may be able to claim that I have discovered a law of the universe. This law would be summed up as: There is no such thing as a true shortcut. Shortcuts on the surface can seem like a good idea. And yet the regrettable consequences of such shortcuts are all too frequent.
And even if using loose leaf tea is a minor inconvenience who’s to say that the end result isn’t even more enjoyable? Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conducted studies on what makes people happy. He found that we experience happiness most reliably when we experience an optimal balance between the challenge of a task and our abilities. If we have to stretch to achieve something then the enjoyment is greater than if something is made too easy.
In his thought provoking book Co-Opportunity (2010) author John Grant says that the myth of convenience is that we cannot bear frustration or effort. The reality is that for our lives to be meaningful we need to experience some struggle, not be a stranger to sacrifice, and find a way of accepting difficulty.
So ditch the tea bag and experience a taste of rewilding by enjoying a cup of loose whole leaf tea.
What do tea companies have to hide? Why they are hiding their product behind the veil of the tea bag? Maybe they don’t want you to think outside the box. Prepackaged tea places yet another obstacle between us and nature. Tea bags give the impression that food is complicated, that it is difficult to process food, that food needs special machinery in order to be useful, or at the very least civilised. But the more we as humans mess with and complicate our food the more we create new problems. The more a food is processed the less likely it is to end up on a list of food being recommended to a person that is in the process of healing. There have been a number of concerns raised about the chemicals used in the making of tea bags.
So don’t be afraid to liberate the leaf, discover richer flavours, end enjoy a closer connection to nature.