Italian HWB member Pierluigi Campidoglio has shared an in-depth monograph of Nettles. This version is translated into English. To view the original Italian and the (slightly different) website translation version in English, visit his original blog post.
Urtica L. - Monograph
Poir membranacea urtica. in bloom
Order : Rosales (APG), Urticales (Cronquist)
Family : Urticaceae Juss.
Primary functionality: Mars
Secondary functionality: Venus
Nature: Dry and ambivalent with respect to heat / coldness, with a slight prevalence of heat (aerial parts)
Hot and dry in the second degree (seeds)
Flavor: Sweet and saline; pungent, bitter and slightly astringent
Tropism: Mainly: kidneys and adrenals, spleen; secondly: liver, stomach, pancreas, blood, epithelia, prostate and uterus
Humoral actions :Regulates Phlegm and Yellow Bile; regulates Melancholia and Blood; tones the functionality of the kidneys.
Tissue states : Phlegm, Yellow Bile, Blood and / or Melancholia deficiency or excess; kidney function deficiency
Clinical actions: Nutritional / tonic, alterative, renal trophorestorative, diuretic, hemostatic, emotional, galactagogue, emmenagogue, metabolism stimulant, analgesic, vulnerable
Used parts :Aerial parts not flowery, aerial parts flowery, seeds, roots
With the name nettle we generally refer to the plants of the genus Urtica L. Mostly stinging due to silicated hairs that cover the surface, nettles are generally edible plants with important healing properties.
There are several species, most of which can be used in a mostly interchangeable way, both in the kitchen and in herbal medicine. In Italy, the most common are: U. dioica (dioica), U. urens , U. pilulifera and U. membranacea (generally monoecious). Some species (such as Urtica ferox of New Zealand) are particularly dangerous because they can cause particularly intense skin reactions that last several days and because, if the areas of skin that come into contact with the plant are particularly large, they can produce important symptoms affecting the central nervous system. Among the Italian species, all stinging but harmless, the most "pungent" seems to be the Roman nettle ( U. pilulifera ), edible like the other species and, according to some authors, the most effective in therapy [Gerard].
Nettles are plants characterized by insignificant flowering (the flowers are very small and very inconspicuous) and by anemophilous pollination (they are pollinated by the wind). Although they offer refuge to many species of insects (they are stinging only for higher animals, which therefore tend to avoid contact with plants) and constituting an important food source for several of them, they are not, however, pollinated by insects.
They are plants that generally prefer damp soils or uncultivated and road edges, provided that the soil is rich and sufficiently humid, and they avoid acidic soils. They are species that prefer a good concentration of nitrates and phosphates and therefore tend to grow near homes and areas where animals are present, especially where there are spills of liquid and / or solid manure (particularly rich in nitrogen).
Nettles contain a good amount of chlorophyll, mineral salts (especially Ca, K, Si, Mg, Fe, P) and proteins that derive from the organization of the abundant nitrogen present in the soil.
Observing their characteristics and "behavior" in their natural environment, one has the impression that the activity of these plants is strongly stretched, on the one hand, towards absorption (hypogean pole) and organization (epigean pole) nitrogenous substances from the protein catabolism wastes of higher animals and, on the other side (exclusively epigean pole), towards the formation of leaves and stems rich in chlorophyll. In this metabolic activity so strongly characterized, it is as if the appearance of flowering remains in the background both from a structural (insignificant flowers) and functional point of view (pollination is entrusted to the wind and so it is not necessary for the plant to use resources for activities responsible for attracting pollinating insects - production of essential oils, colored molecules, etc.).
Returning to chlorophyll (in reality we should speak more correctly of chlorophylls , because there are different forms, all very similar to each other from a structural point of view), it is interesting to note that it is closely similar, from a chemical point of view, to the heme present in the blood of higher animals, being both cyclic macromolecules formally derived from a tetra-pyrrolic ring, which contain, within the cycle, a metal ion (Mg for chlorophyll and Fe for heme).
It is possible to glimpse a similarity between the two molecules also from a functional point of view. First of all, chlorophyll is a pigment that has the ability to "capture" sunlight so that it can be used by the plant, in the process known as chlorophyll photosynthesis , as a source of energy for the production of that "caloric" molecule which is glucose. Formally, chlorophyll allows plants to produce glucose and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water:
6CO 2 + 6H 2 O -> C 6 H 12 O 6 + 6O 2
On the other hand, heme is a pigment (and in fact gives the blood its characteristic red color) sensitive to light which has the function of transporting oxygen to animal cells so that the exactly inverse function can be achieved, ie the transformation ("combustion ") Of glucose in carbon dioxide and water by oxygen:
C 6 H 12 O 6 + 6O 2 -> 6CO 2 + 6H 2 O
If the reaction of chlorophyll photosynthesis takes place thanks to the energy "taken" by the sun, the combustion reaction of glucose produces energy that the animal (or human) organism uses for its functions. So we can say that the two reactions together have the overall function of transferring the energy taken from the sun to animal organisms: they are two opposite reactions in the direction  , but complementary in the overall action.
A plant so rich in precious substances for superior animals are strongly appreciated as a food. For this reason, in the course of evolution it has had to devise a system to "defend itself" so that it is not systematically devoured. The stinging effect (precisely) is due to the presence, on the surfaces of the leaves and stems, of hairs ( trichomes) rigid silicate and hollow single-celled cells which, when broken, inject a liquid rich in irritants (including histamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, organic acids). The trichomes of nettle plants have a characteristic elongated ampoule shape topped and closed by a bulb (Fig. 1-A). The whole trichome is calcified and silicized. The silica content is maximum at the apex and the portions adjacent to it and gradually decreases towards the base of the trichome. Calcification begins concurrently with the decrease in silica and eventually calcium replaces almost completely the silicon near the base [Thurston].
More in detail, the silica particles are mainly concentrated at the apex, in correspondence with the bulb, where they form a continuous structure (Fig. 1-C zone I). Immediately below the bulb, there is a transition zone (Fig. 1-C zone II) almost free of silica and, inferior to this, there is the body of the trichome (Fig. 1-C zone III), in whose walls there are only secondary silica particles [Fu].
Therefore, the hardest zone (due to the silica content) turns out to be that of the bulb (zone I), followed by the body of the trichome (zone III), while the intermediate zone (zone II) is decidedly more fragile and therefore can break easily. When the trichome is hit, for example, by an animal, it breaks exactly in zone II (see Fig. 1-B), transforming itself into a sort of tiny hypodermic needle. The trichoma fracture also causes the release of its cytoplasmic content to the outside, which is thus practically "injected" into the epidermis of the unfortunate animal.
Fig. 1 - Trichomes of Urtica spp. (taken from [Fu])
Interestingly, this copresence of calcium and silicon at inversely proportional concentrations is often found in living systems. Even in bones, for example, silicon, fundamental for the calcification of the tissue, is found mainly linked to the newly formed bone matrix: as calcium binds to the matrix, silicon tends to decrease its concentration, so much so that in the completely calcified bone tissue the concentration of silicon is minimal.
Nettle provides a textile fiber similar to linen, very resistant. The leaves and stem can be used to dye the fabrics green and the roots to dye them yellow. The juice and decoction of the plant can be used to curdle milk.
Nettle is traditionally considered a plant ruled primarily by Mars, due to both its "pungency" and its activity: acute, violent, rubefactory, inflammatory, intense, purifying and acting on the formation of blood (see also [Angelini, Junius, Culpeper]).
The secondary signature of the nettle is Venusina, by virtue of both its peculiar action on the kidneys and adrenals and its ability to purify the body and treat rheumatism and gout (thanks to the sharing of the lordship of Saturn in Libra; see also [Angelini]).
Parts Used and their Collection
Of the different species of nettle, the whole plant is used: leaves and apical parts collected before flowering, aerial part of flowers (used mostly in homeopathy), seeds (mostly immature crops) and roots.
The leaves and the apical parts (young shoots) must be collected immediately before flowering. The stems can be cut at ground level, collected in thin bundles (a maximum of ten stems per bundle) and left to dry upside down, in the shade, in a ventilated and dry room or in a low temperature dryer. Once dry, the leaves and tops are separated from the stems which, being fibrous, are discarded.
Alternatively, the fresh leaves and tops (collected without the fibrous stems) can be used to produce liquid extracts (hydroalcoholic dye, acetolite, ...).
The flowery aerial parts must be harvested, obviously, at flowering and before the flowers wilt or the seeds form. They are mostly used to prepare their hydroalcoholic tincture.
The seeds should be harvested preferably when they are immature but "full": the flower stems that carry the female flowers first and then the seeds, although being pendulous, tend to go somewhat upwards when the plants are in bloom, but tend to bend significantly downwards for the weight of the seeds when they are "full": this is the best time for harvesting. Only the seeds, the whole flower stems or the whole apical part of the plant that bears the flower stems can be removed, removing the seeds at a later time. The seeds thus collected can be dried or used for the preparation of a tincture.
The roots are to be collected in the autumn.
The aerial parts of nettles always host a large quantity of insects, so it is important that these are removed before drying or extraction, placing the collected parts on a flat surface (table, floor, etc.): normally insects they tend to go away on their own in a short time.
For the preparation of the tinctures, the drug: solvent ratio and the alcoholic strength vary greatly according to the traditions. The tinctures can be prepared from both recently dried material and from fresh drugs: obviously, in the latter case the tincture will be much richer and more effective.
The mother tincture is prepared from a fresh plant, with an alcoholic strength of 45%.
In the American tradition, there is a tendency to use a drug: solvent ratio (drug weight expressed in ounces and volume of solvent expressed in fluid ounces, which roughly corresponds to drug weight expressed in grams and volume of solvent expressed in milliliters) which goes from 1: 2 to 1: 5 for the leaves (both fresh and dried) and an alcoholic strength in the range 50-90%; for the root and seeds, a drug: solvent ratio of 1: 3-1: 5 with an alcoholic strength of 25-30% is used.
Tastes and Nature
The nettle has a primarily sweet and "salty" flavor (it is a type of salty flavor that Matthew Wood defines as " earthen ", earthy [Wood]) and secondarily pungent, bitter and slightly astringent. The pungent flavor is more evident in the fresh plant (before tasting it, it is important to let it dry well or crush it so that the stinging hairs soften and no longer sting), the sweet and bitter flavors are felt more in the tincture.
In the American tradition, nettle is called refreshing and drying (see, for example, [HerbRem]). The ancient authors (up to Mattioli, Durante and Gerard) consider, instead, the nettle to be a slightly warm plant (it does not reach the first degree [Gerard]) and dry. Castore Durante probably describes its temperature (or nature ) in the best way:
“ It does not heat up valiantly: it is made up of very thin parts, & although it is warm, pungent, its virtue lies in the surface of the branches, but the refrigerating virtue is hidden inside. " [Durante]
This means that the plant associates a certain degree of heat, linked mostly to the ability of the green surfaces to sting and inflame and which is however reflected in the overall flavor and stimulating capacity of the plant, with a decidedly more refreshing action. The fact of possessing "opposite" properties is very interesting because it gives the nettle the ability to act in a bivalent way: it is in fact simultaneously stimulating and refreshing, which makes it suitable for both "hot" conditions (eg, inflammations and fevers) both under conditions characterized by lack of "heat" and in neither of the two classes of conditions is excessive, as each of its qualities is tempered by the contemporary presence of the other. We will say that the nettle is ambivalent compared to the degree of heat, with a slight prevalence of heat. During flowering the nettle is more pungent, so if you prefer a slightly more intense degree of heat you can pick it up when it has bloomed.
The seed is also sweet, saline and slightly pungent (more than the aerial part); it is hot and dry in the second degree. According to Chinese Medicine, the nettle seed enters the Kidney and Liver meridians and has the function of toning the Qi, benefiting the Kidney and generating essence. Nettle seeds are indicated in case of kidney Qi vacuum and depletion of the essence that manifest with lethargy, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, confused thinking, low libido, etc. The combination of sweet and slightly bitter flavors is typical of toning drugs such as ginseng: the sweetness nourishes while the slightly bitter taste gently drains and allows you to prevent any stagnation caused by the toning action of the sweet. It is a drug indicated in cases where the kidney Qi is too weak to "catch" the breath (or Lung Qi) and draw it inwards and downwards, which is why you need to sit with your back straight for be able to breathe. [Garran]
From the characteristics of flavor and nature (or temperature ) we can deduce the "main" actions of the plant:
The seed has flavors and qualities similar to those of the aerial parts of the plant, but it is sweeter and decidedly more pungent (even if the heat does not reach a high degree); therefore its action is more nourishing, tonic and diffusive than the aerial parts (see also [Garran]).
An important feature of the nettle is the co-presence of opposite actions and qualities:
Plants that have the ability to exert "contrasting" effects (we speak more correctly of bivalent or ambivalent actions ) are particularly important in therapy, because, firstly, they can be applied in multiple contexts and, secondly, because, instead of inducing or limiting certain bodily functions, rather have the ability to regulate them in a "fine" way according to the need: where a function is overactive they reduce it and where it is reduced they stimulate it.
We can summarize the main actions of the nettle as follows:
The clinical actions of the nettle "derive" from the humoral actions. The plant turns out to be a nutritional tonic, a renal trophorestorative, a restorative, alterative, diuretic, hemostatic, emotional, galactagogue, emmenagogue, metabolism stimulant, analgesic, vulnerable, antiallergic drug.
Despite having an important action on the whole organism, the nettle has a particular affinity for some specific organs, tissues and systems, including: kidneys and adrenals, spleen, liver, stomach, pancreas, blood, epithelia (skin, mucous membranes, walls of blood vessels), prostate and uterus.
Nettle is an herb that, as we have seen, is characterized by ambivalence: on the one hand it treats deficit conditions and on the other it treats excess conditions. This characteristic is clearly manifested also in its indications.
Being a nutritional tonic and tonic of Melancolia, together with the interesting nutritional profile, make the nettle particularly suitable for deficit conditions: malnourished, thin, weak, pale, emaciated people who lack vitality. Strengthens the connective tissue, assists in protein metabolism, treats iron deficiency anemia and the deficiency of the corpuscular components of the blood, stimulates milk production.
On the other hand, its characteristics make it suitable for treating excess conditions, in particular Phlegm and Phlegm-Bile (the former corresponding to the Humidity or Phlegm patterns and the latter to those of Heat / Humidity according to TCM). Under such conditions, the tissues are swollen with more or less "thickened" liquids and concomitant inflammation may also be present: in such cases, the nettle drains excess liquids while disinfecting the tissues. Nettle can then be used to treat the so-called " syndrome of bad blood " (in English " bad blood syndrome ") and symptoms that characterize it: chronic skin problems, low grade infections (chronic but not particularly intense), accumulation phlegm in the tissues, digestive difficulties and hepatic "laziness".
According to some authors ([EvolHerb, Riley]) it also has an effect on short-tempered people who tend to get angry, with red eyes, bloodshot, red face, general irritability and frustration (these are symptoms that, depending on the conditions, they can correspond to different syndromes of TCM, from the stagnation of Liver Qi to the “blazing up of Liver Fire”).
Ambivalence is also found in homeopathic mental symptoms: calm, relaxed, calm, euphoric, witty people; or detached, separate, unpleasant, irritable at work and fearful, with dreams of panic over survival [Riley].
The seeds have, in particular, an anti-enuretic function (they treat the " pee in bed ") and expectorant; they are indicated in case of cough (Dioscorides recommends them macerated with honey in wine); they restore renal functions and are very useful in case of chronic renal failure. In the experience of contemporary American herbal medicine, their use has avoided, in several cases, the need to resort to dialysis. In this case, dry or tincture immature seeds are preferred.
For all these reasons, it is an extremely versatile plant, so much so that David Hoffman, a well-known Medical herbalist from Wales, says: " When in doubt, give nettles ".
Given its complexity of action, the nettle can be used for even deeply different humoral pictures. In particular, it is indicated in cases of yellow bile deficiency, phlegm deficiency, blood deficiency, excess phlegm and excess yellow bile. In clinical practice, mixed cases can also be found, characterized by the mixture of two or more of the paintings presented here.
The general characteristics of these humoral pictures are described below.
Yellow Bile deficiency
It corresponds to the Depression [Wood] tissue state or to different forms of Yang deficiency of TCM (for example, in the case of nettle, typically Yang Qi deficiency or Yang kidney deficiency). It occurs in weak, pale, indolent people who lack vitality, who manifest functional deficits, such as, for example, difficult digestion and slow elimination, with low blood pressure and possibly orthostatic hypotension, impotence. Depending on the severity of the condition, there may be:
Corresponds to Atrophy [Wood] tissue status and several forms of Yin deficiency according to TCM. Malnourished, thin, weak, emaciated people, with dry mucous membranes and dry skin that tears easily or flakes (dermatological problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis are very common), constipation and dry stools, possible restlessness or nervousness. You will have:
It roughly corresponds to the blood deficiency according to TCM. As we have seen, the nettle is an emotional one but, according to some authors, it is not able to completely treat, by itself, the blood deficiency according to TCM because, being "eliminative" (diuretic and alterative), it does not increase the " amount "of Blood. The nettle is especially suitable for treating hyposisemia and the conditions in which the protein or corpuscular fraction of the blood (red, white blood cells, platelets) are lacking. These conditions often manifest themselves with lightheadedness and dizziness, dizziness, even intense palpitations, insomnia, profuse dreams, memory deficits, hair that falls out or becomes discolored. You can also have:
Excess of Phlegm
Corresponds to the Torpor / Stagnation [Wood] state, to the "impure blood syndrome"") Or under conditions of internal humidity or phlegm of TCM. It manifests itself with the accumulation or loss of more or less thick or turbid liquids; cloudy urine; feeling of heaviness in the body or dizziness with mental dullness; heavy, thick and adhesive muzzles present on the mucous membranes or in the stool, excessive frequency in swallowing or spitting saliva mostly thick; intoxication sensation or symptoms similar to hangover symptoms; low immunity; weak peripheral circulation, with skin lesions and difficulty healing wounds; slowed elimination processes, with possible constipation. Wet eczema, arthritic or rheumatic pain, atherosclerosis, allergies may be present. It can also be manifested by:
Excess of Yellow Bile
It corresponds to a condition of excess heat and hyper-reactivity, typical, for example, of the Excitation [Wood] state. It can also correspond to conditions of excess Heat according to the TCM (for example, Full Heat, Excess Heat in the Liver which can produce an increase in Liver Fire, but also Heat as a component of mixed pictures such as Humidity / Heat or Toxic Heat). Hyperstimulation, hyperactivity of the organism, which results in heat, redness, sometimes pain; temperature rise, fever; nervous excitement, restlessness; sensitivity to stimulation; red eyes; red-pink color of the fabrics. Or, unpleasant, detached, short-tempered people with a tendency to have outbursts of anger, general irritability, red face, frustration and anger; the eyes may be red, bloodshot. It can manifest itself,
In the case of particularly hyper-reactive conditions, to avoid overstimulation, it is advisable to use low doses of nettle, for example 1-5 drops of hydroalcoholic tincture of the aerial parts, up to 3 times a day, and possibly gradually increase, if necessary .
Seasonal scalds and allergies can also be included (even if the latter are not exactly full-fledged) in this humoral picture. In particular, nettle has a specific indication for allergies characterized by red nose and eyes and abundant loss of "thin" fluids (tearing and nose which drips fluid and transparent mucus).
Cardiovascular system and blood
The nettle (aerial part) has a peculiar action on the blood, as it can contribute significantly to the restoration of the level of blood iron and the concentration of red blood cells, neutrophils, lymphocytes [De Vico, Juma, Saeidi]. In animals, the concentration of total proteins and albumin increases [De Vico, Saeidi]. It has an ambivalent action on pressure, as it is capable of treating both low and high blood pressure. It reduces platelet hyper-aggregability [ElHaouari, Mekhfi].
Digestive system and metabolism
The nettle (aerial part) has a tonic and mildly laxative action on the intestine; treats intestinal inflammation, removing irritative stimuli [Iozzi]. Nettle stimulates biliary, pancreatic and enteric secretions, improving digestion (the action is also due to the presence of small quantities of secretin). It is a mild stimulant laxative.
Kidneys, adrenals and urinary tract
On this apparatus, the nettle has an important and broad-spectrum action, as it has the ability to stimulate diuresis (it is a natriuretic, azoturic and uricolitic diuretic with a delicate and moderate action), to eliminate urinary stones (such as whether it is their localization), to treat infections (especially the longer lasting ones) and to tone the tissues. It has a specific action as a trophorestorativerenal, resulting indicated in case of renal failure, dialysis and in any case of renal damage (both structural and functional) and of adrenal deficiency and "fatigue". The trophorestorative action is exercised by the whole plant, but to a much greater extent by immature seeds. The latter, especially when used fresh, have the ability to induce a certain activation of the nervous system, so much so that the (anecdotal) case of a man who has not slept for three days in a row after ingesting a spoonful of seeds is reported [EvolHerb ]. It is important to keep in mind that the response to the ingestion of the seeds (fresh, dry or in tincture) is absolutely personal: some may find the seeds highly activating and must take very low doses, others may be less sensitive and require much higher doses.
The whole plant (aerial part and seeds) has a stimulating action to detoxify the liver. Some of its extracts have the ability to modulate the gene expression of liver detoxifying enzymes. In particular, for the seeds of Urtica urens an induction action of some isoforms of the cytochrome P450 [Hizlan] has been experimentally demonstrated: this must be taken into account in the case of concomitant administration of drugs and dry extracts of nettle seeds for extended periods of time. Supports liver protein metabolism. In animals it supports albumin biosynthesis. [De Vico, Saeidi].
Nettle (aerial parts) tones the uterus and stimulates it, is an emmenagogue and counteracts excessive losses. It is useful in the postpartum, in case of atony / uterine prolapse and dysmenorrhea / amenorrhea. Treats inflammation of the uterine appendages [Iozzi]. The nettle root treats benign prostatic hypertrophy. The seeds are aphrodisiacs.
Connective tissue and extracellular matrix
Nettle (aerial part) has the ability to drain phlegmatic-bilious and melancholic toxins from the connective tissue (also thanks to the presence of salts and Silicon) and, in particular, the residues of protein catabolism (mainly urates, see also [Fuller]) and to optimize the synthesis of proteins with the result of "cleaning up" and toning the connective tissue and the extracellular matrix. In case of wounds, it promotes collagen formation and stimulates capillary production, but minimizes the formation of fibrous tissue. It counteracts osteoporosis and the protein degradation of cartilages in case of rheumatoid arthritis. It inhibits (in vitro) some proteolytic enzymes of the extracellular matrix (elastase, collagenase) [Bourgeois].
Nettle (aerial parts) counteracts skin disorders that manifest themselves with raised red patches (wheals) that cause burning and / or itching (urticaria, insect bites, cold sores, etc.). It is a good vulnerary, promoting the correct healing of wounds.
Differences between the various species of nettle
The different species of nettle have roughly the same effects, so they can be used almost interchangeably. However, there are subtle differences in action.
For example, according to Dewitte and Leunis, Urtica dioica and Urtica urens have more or less the same properties, although the former, with a hyper-βγ-, hyper-γ- and hypo-γ-eu-globulin profile, it is indicated in the fibrosis and disorganization phases, while the second, with a less advanced profile, is indicated in the reaction, deposition and fibrosis phases [DewLeunis].
According to John Gerard, of all the (European) species of nettle, the most effective in therapy is the Roman nettle ( Urtica pilulifera L.) [Gerard].
Method of administration
Nettle can be used as an infusion, decoction, macerated, hydroalcoholic tincture or freeze-dried powder . It can be used as a food.
Contraindications and side effects
Nettle in general is a very well tolerated plant, except for some cases of gastric disturbances.
In some people, drinking a strong infusion of nettle can cause headaches. [HerbRem]
Being a plant of a dry nature, the nettle can accentuate a pre-existing systemic dryness.
As a diuretic it can interfere with diuretic drugs. Dry seed extracts, used for sufficiently long periods of time (> 14 days) can interfere with the plasma level of some drugs.
Citations and Bibliography are on his original blog post.
I'm an Italian chemistry graduate, farmer, herbalist, and a member of the Italian Botanical Society. At present I'm dealing with the comparative study of some major healing systems, like Hippocratic-Galenic medicine, Chinese medicine and Western herbalism, as well as gemmotherapy and homotoxicology. I'm also involved in the recovery of information about the healing properties of autochthonous Italian plants.
Visit Pierluigi on his blog here: http://www.alleanzaverde.com/blog/
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