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Stinging Nettle, The Herb That Heals

stinging nettle the herb that heals

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.

Stinging nettles. Photo credit sermoa

“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

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.

It complements many other herbs and pairs well with a range of different plants. If you search for Nettle on our site you will find that we combine it with many different herbs and spices including Black Pepper, Burdock, Cayenne, Cinnamon, Cloves, Fenugreek, Ginger, Ginkgo, Hibiscus, Horsetail, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lemon Myrtle, Lemongrass, Liquorice, Red Clover, Rooibos, Rose petals, Rosehips, Rosemary and the list goes on.

Featured Nourishing Herbs teas with Stinging Nettle

Nettle Use Around the World

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.

Header image “Nettles (Urtica)” by wallygrom is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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How to Increase Breastmilk Supply

How to increase breastmilk supply

Galactogogues

Galactogogue (pronounced gah-lakh’-tah-gog) is the funny sounding scientific word for foods, herbs and medications that stimulate breastmilk supply by increasing prolactin and oxytocin output. Do you need the help of galactogogues? The answer to that relies on a few factors.

How is breastmilk made?

Your body will make breastmilk when it receives the right signals. Usually this is when you have been pregnant and your baby has been born, or sometimes from a month or so beforehand.

For most people this works best if all the signals are from your own body. The oxyctocin that stimulates labour increases the output of milk when your baby is born, and then when you put the baby to the breast right after birth prolactin is stimulated, which is the signal to your brain is that you now have a baby to feed and milk is pushed out in response, as the suckling stimulates your nipple. This also increases the love hormone, oxytocin, at the same time which solidifies the bonding in your brain and the baby’s brain. When this happens in the golden hour after birth, you are set up to continue producing milk whenever your baby signals hungry.

Supply and Demand

As your baby grows and their needs change, your milk will change with them. When they are first born, the colostrum that you provide is very high in energy and nutrients, as the baby has been used to a constant supply of nutrients from the placenta, but has a stomach the size of a marble. This is why the baby will want constantly be on the nipple in the first 6 to 8 weeks. As the grow and their stomach gets larger, the milk will contain more proteins and water as well.

Your baby sends your body the signal for how much milk to make. Each time the baby suckles on your nipple, it is sending a signal to make milk, and it is setting a pattern in your brain for the frequency and amount of milk he or she will need in the future.

In the first 6-8 weeks you will make way more milk than your baby needs. This is natures way of ensuring that you have enough for multiple babies, if necessary. As time goes on, however, your baby sets the timing and amount of what it will need. It is important that during this time, your avoid bottle feeding, or using pacifiers or dummies, except in an emergency, as this can mess with nature’s perfect system of supply and demand, and may decrease your supply.

When you might you need galactogogues

When birth has been difficult or traumatic, and when the mother hasn’t had the golden hour with her baby, bonding and suckling right after birth, it can confuse the instinctive signals between mother and baby.

The baby has certain instincts to crawl towards the breast and to suckle right after birth. Unfortunately, the longer this skin to skin holding is put off, the less those instincts kick in. The baby can still learn to suckle, but it might be more difficult, and they might need extra help. This, in turn, affects the supply and demand production of the milk. If you experience these issues, its really a good idea to talk to a breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant. The behaviour between mother and baby is really the key to producing enough milk, as well as secure attachment.

After the first six to eight weeks, your body will have gotten used to the amount of milk to produce, based on feeding your baby on demand. For some people, this will mean that you are producing way less milk than during the first six to eight weeks. This doesn’t mean that you are losing your milk or producing too little. In the first weeks, you may get used to your breasts feeling “full”, but as your baby gets older and your body becomes attuned to the amount of milk they need, your breasts will stop producing more than the baby needs, and start producing it on demand instead. This might mean that your breasts feel softer and slightly smaller, between feeds, than they did in the first six to eight weeks.

Here are some signs to look for to gauge whether you are producing enough milk.

If you are producing enough milk, and your baby is feeding correctly , your baby will have bright eyes, they will be alert when awake, they will be eager to feed and have a strong suck, they will also produce six to eight wet or dirty nappies in 24 hours, and they will be gaining an appropriate amount of weight. They will also wake through the night to feed at least two to three times.

Your breasts produce milk on demand, so if everything is working properly, the slightest feeling that the baby is ready to feed will trigger the let down reflex, which is when your breast pushes milk from the lobes where it is produced, towards the nipple and you might start to leak a little. This feels like pins and needles around your breasts and underarms.

Generally speaking, if you have made sure that your baby is properly attached, is feeding on demand, but you still feel like you need extra help producing milk, this is when herbs and foods that are galactogogues can be helpful. Remember that extra stress, anxiety and not enough physical skin to skin time with your baby, especially if they are under six months, can inhibit milk production and the let down reflex.

Photo: Filip Mroz

If you have to work and pump, try putting on headphones with a recording of your baby making sounds, or a video of your baby and concentrate on them while pumping. When you get home spend plenty of time with them in your arms, skin to skin.

Other reasons for low milk supply and using galactogogues to boost your supply are: exclusively pumping for a premie or sick child in hospital or a baby with feeding issues, breastfeeding after surgery, stress, the return of menstruation causing a dip in supply, taking hormonal birth control, starting breastfeeding again after a break, breastfeeding an adopted baby.

Foods that increase breastmilk supply

When you are breastfeeding you need a good balance of nutrients in your diet. Every day you should have 2-3 servings of protein foods such as poultry, fish, meat, eggs, dairy or a combination of beans, nuts, and seeds.

Each day eat a minimum of three servings of a variety of colourful vegetables, have two servings of fresh fruit and include other complex carbohydrates like nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.

Drink enough plain water to satisfy thirst, have minimal caffeinated drinks as the caffeine can come through the milk, and can also be a culprit in lower milk supply, if you are having too much every day.

Vegetarian diets can be compatible with breastfeeding, if you are careful to plan your diet to get the nutrients you require. If you would like to avoid meat make sure to include other sources of iron and zinc such as dried beans, nuts, seeds, dairy and eggs. If you would prefer to have a vegan diet and avoid all animal products, add a nutritional yeast supplement and a B12 supplement so you and your baby don’t develop a B12 deficiency.

Specific foods that can help boost your milk in times of stress and or low nutrition are: garlic, oatmeal, barley, brown rice, brewers yeast, and yeast spreads such as Vegemite.

Photo: Ellieelien

Fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and lacto-fermented pickles are especially important to include as they keep your gut healthy and this is imperative to being able to absorb nutrients.

Green and leafy vegetables (particularly cos lettuce, watercress, parsley, rocket, spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, kale, alfalfa sprouts and asparagus) and yellow orange and red vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, red capsicum) promote rich milk as well as increasing volume.

Almonds and other nuts, chick peas, sesame seeds and tahini, sunflower seeds boost supply because they are nutritionally dense. Spices and cooking herbs like ginger, cumin, fennel, anise seeds, fenugreek, turmeric and coriander/cilantro moringa leaves, and dill can be very useful as a boost, especially used in conjunction with some of the other foods on this list.

Milk Boosting Recipes

Here are three recipes which I recommend as side-dishes to have in your fridge which help boost supply: hummus, tabbouleh and almond pesto.

Hummus

Hummus is a dip that is yummy on crackers, with flat bread or as a side dish for a meal.

  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 4 tablespoons of tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 2 cloves of raw garlic, crushed
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pink salt or sea salt (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  1. To your clean food processor bowl add tahini, lemon juice and garlic and blend till it turns creamy.
  2. Add your chickpeas, small amounts at a time, with the water from the can, alternating with a tablespoon of olive oil at a time. Some people like to remove the skins of the chickpeas for a creamier dip. You can also substitute canned chickpeas for ones that you have cooked yourself, by soaking a cup of dried chickpeas overnight with a teaspoon of vinegar, cook them the next day in two cups of fresh water with a pinch of salt until soft,(usually an hour with soaked chickpeas).
  3. Add cumin powder and blend till creamy. Keep in an airtight jar or container in the fridge for up to a week.

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is a parsley salad which is delicious in wraps, or as a side dish.

  • 1 big bunch of parsley
  • 2 ripe firm tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs of fresh mint (or to taste)
  • 3 spring onions
  • 1/4 cup bulgur wheat, soaked overnight in the dressing (you can substitute cooked quinoa as a gluten free alternative)

Dressing:

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  1. Make the dressing by crushing the garlic and adding lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
  2. Soak the bulgur wheat in the dressing for at least an hour, but overnight tastes better.
  3. Chop parsley, mint, spring onions and tomatoes finely, and combine with the bulgur and dressing.

Almond Pesto

Pesto is a paste usually used on pasta, but it can also be a condiment for any other meal that you would like.

  • 1 bunch fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cloves crushed raw garlic
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons grated parmesan or other hard cheese
  • 4 tablespoons almonds
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In a food processor blend the almonds while adding olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. When creamy add the basil and parsley and blend till fine. Add parmesan and salt and blend till fully combined. Store in an airtight jar or container in the fridge. Can last up to a week.

Herbal help to build breastmilk supply

Mother's Milk Booster Herbal Tea

Herbal teas are an easy way to increase your breastmilk supply, by increasing the intake of fluids as well as nutrients and the actions of specific herbs.

The herbs that I have in my Mother’s Milk Booster are raspberry leaf , stinging nettles, goat’s rue, lemon balm, lemon verbena, red clover, blessed thistle, fennel, fenugreek, marshmallow root, chamomile, rosehips, hibiscus, rose petals and coconut. These herbs in combination are the ones that I found the most helpful when breastfeeding my own babies. I hope they help you as well.

Happy breastfeeding!