What’s nettle tea?
Maybe you’ve seen stinging nettles at a farmer’s market. If you passed on the plant, who could blame you? Stinging nettle tea might not seem like the coziest mug to warm your hands this winter, but this rather ornery-sounding brew has a pretty potent list of health benefits. Typically made from the leaves and stems of the stinging nettle plant (Latin name: Urtica dioica), this tea is used as a natural remedy for a range of ailments, from muscle and joint pain and urinary conditions to allergies, skin irritations, and digestive problems. (Is black tea already a part of your regular routine? Check out the health benefits from your everyday cup.)
The source of the sting
What gives this plant its prickly name? All but one of its subspecies are covered across leaves and stem with tiny, hollow, bristle-like hairs that release histamines and other chemicals that produce a burning, stinging sensation when they come into contact with skin. Soaking or boiling the stems and leaves, however, renders the plant’s sting-producing chemicals inert. In addition to tea, the plant’s leaves are also used as a cooking ingredient. The Kitchn recommends after blanching, using nettle leaves as you would spinach, chard, or parsley. Now, for the eight healthy wonders behind nettle tea:
1. Soothes allergies
In its natural state, the stinging nettle plant stimulates an allergic reaction when its fine hairs touch the skin. But when prepared as tea, nettles may actually help soothe allergies. Research shows the plant extract inhibits inflammatory reactions that are linked to the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Often used as a natural remedy for hay fever, the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center reports findings from a study that found that 48 percent of allergy sufferers said nettles were more effective than allergy medications in reducing symptoms. Here are other natural remedies that can help you relieve allergy symptoms without relying on medication—or sniffling and sneezing through the entire season.
2. Treats muscle and joint pain
Because of its natural anti-inflammatory and analgesic (aka pain-relieving) properties, nettles have been used for centuries to treat sore, stiff muscles and joints. In a study at Germany’s University of Frankfurt, people with acute arthritis used stewed nettles in combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs). The combination boosted the effectiveness of the NSAID medication in relieving arthritis pain. Other research has found a supplement containing the plant relieved the symptoms of osteoarthritis and reduced patients’ need for NSAID pain medication. An anti-inflammatory diet can reduce pain and keep inflammation in check. Make sure you have these staples of a pain- and inflammation-fighting diet.
3. Strengthens bones
Nettle tea delivers high concentrations of bone-fortifying calcium, magnesium, and iron. The plant also contains vitamins D and K, which help bones use calcium to protect bone density. Magnesium is stored in the bones, supports bone strength, and aids in the absorption of calcium. Low magnesium is linked to osteoporosis, a chronic condition of weak and fragile bones. Iron deficiency is also associated with bone loss. Get to know these other, less well-known bone conditions that can cause pain, limit mobility, and interfere with daily life.
4. Boost heart health
Nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals regarded as powerful heart protectors. The plant is a rich source of vitamins A and C, beta carotene, and other carotenoids. Because of its high content of vitamin C and iron, which help the body boost red blood cell production, it may help prevent anemia. Nettles also contain the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, which can help lower blood pressure and reduce risk for cardiovascular disease. A potent source of iron and potassium, tea made from this spiky, leafy plant may help to relax blood vessels and aid in healthy circulation. Check out the recently updated guidelines for high blood pressure.
5. Soothes skin irritations
Thanks to the plant’s antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and pain-relieving abilities, nettle has a long and successful history of treating skin irritations like eczema and acne. It seems to reduce redness and swelling, soothe itching, speed healing, and minimize scarring. To get these skin-clarifying benefits, you can drink the tea—or you can brew a cup, let it cool, and apply the liquid directly to your skin. Don’t miss these other all-natural tricks to make your skin glow.
6. Boosts kidney, urinary, and prostate health
As a diuretic, nettles can promote healthy urination. The stinging nettle plant is used as a natural remedy for urinary tract infections, and to prevent kidney stones. A 2014 study of nettle extract in rats showed it reduced build-up of calcium oxalate crystals in the kidneys, which contribute to the formation of the most common type of kidney stones. Under care of a physician, extracts of the plant are used to treat the urinary symptoms of enlarged prostate, including a frequent need to urinate and difficulty emptying the bladder. Know these signs of a urinary tract infection.
7. Strengthens immune function
The nettle plant contains several immune-boosting compounds, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamins A and C. These antioxidants help protect immune cells against damage that can weaken immune function. Research shows nettle extract strengthens the immune response, encouraging immune cell activity. Scientists at Turkey’s Hacettepe University found this plant stimulates the T-cells of the immune system, which help to fight infection and other disease-causing pathogens in the body. Try these everyday habits to boost your immune system.
8. Regulates digestion
Excessive inflammation can interfere with healthy digestion and promote the growth of harmful bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. Regularly consuming this stinging nettle tea, with its potent anti-inflammatory powers, may help you regulate digestion, helping reduce constipation, diarrhea, and upset stomach. By keeping your gut stocked with the right balance of bacteria and other microbes—known collectively as your microbiome—you may also get protection against a much wider spectrum of diseases. “There’s a good chance your microbiome is associated with every disease you can think of—diabetes, cancer, autism,” Michael Snyder, PhD, director of Stanford University’s Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine, told WebMD. Learn how maintaining a healthy gut can help you age more slowly—and in better health.
Know the precautions
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, stinging nettle can interact with several over-the-counter and prescription medications, including diuretics, drugs for high blood pressure, diabetes medications, blood thinners, and lithium. Before starting to use any new supplement or natural remedy, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor. Here are the essential questions you should ask yourself before starting to take a new medication.