Disclaimer: This post and blog fall under the heading ‘Personal Experiences’ and is meant to interest, educate and inspire. All information and instruction is given without the intent to harm or control the reader in any way.
It may seem strange to be healing with a plant that can hurt you, but the #1 dried herbal in my First Aid kit is stinging/burning nettle (Urtica dioica). Stinging nettle tea is in my medicine cabinet and portable First Aid kit. Even though the well-known weed grows everywhere, I use commercially made ready-to-go stinging nettle tea bags (which also contain fennel and blackberry leaves) wrapped in paper envelopes [Lord Nelson]. If you factor in the work involved in (carefully) collecting, drying, wrapping, labeling and packaging the raw herb, commercial tea bags are a good deal. Commercial tea bags are also travel friendly, since they are less likely to attract suspicion than loose herbs.
I use stinging nettle tea for:
- Cuts & Scrapes: Moisten and press against wound (or let moisture from wound activate tea) as a compress. Dried stinging nettle leaves are astringent/promote wound closing (due to tannins), antiseptic/prevent infection (tannins/phenols, organic acids, zinc ions) and promote skin healing (tannins, vitamins A, C & E, zinc ions).
- Insect Bites: Moisten and hold against bite. For me, it was relieving while pressed against the skin, but the itch quickly came back after removing the ‘poultice‘. Spraying a tincture of fresh nettle leaves in grain alcohol (vodka) or vinegar might be more effective, since ethanol and acetic acid extract both water-soluble (ex: vitamin C, ions) and water-insoluble (ex: vitamin A) compounds from herbs and helps them penetrate deeper into the skin, which is mainly water-impermeable. This can also help relieve the pain and raised bumps due to stings from stinging nettle.
- Nosebleeds: Moisten and gently plug up nostril. I sometimes have long-duration nosebleeds that need to be stopped before I lose a lot of blood. I tried other teas (chamomile, pomegranate), but stinging nettle was the most effective. Since fruit and flower teas are also astringent, this difference is probably due to the high vitamin and mineral content of stinging nettles. For external wound healing, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc ions are commonly applied, as well as the amino acid lysine, and these are all found in stinging nettle leaves (less vitamin C in dried leaves). I also drink nettle tea to promote blood clotting (see below).
- Excessive Blood Loss: Drink tea from leaves steeped in (preferably) hot or carbonated water. The tea has a very mild, uncharacteristic (green?) taste, and it is very diuretic. Stinging nettles have a high vitamin K1 content. Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone, Koagulationsvitamin) is an essential vitamin found in leafy greens (chlorophyll) that is used by the body to create coagulation factors. The leaves also have a considerable amount of iron (14% DV/100 g), so stinging nettle tea is used for blood building. In fact, stinging nettles can and have been used as food, basically as a substitute for spinach, since they provide many nutrients. For example, 100 grams can supply 90%–100% of the daily value of vitamin A and significant amounts of calcium, iron, and protein [Int. J. of Food Science, Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 857120]. Vitamin A works with iron to prevent anemia [Mayo Clinic]. *Warfarin (Coumadin(R)), dicoumarol (sweet clover) and related anticoagulants competitively inhibit vitamin K activity, so stinging nettle may interfere with these medications. Other possible interactions of stinging nettle are those with blood pressure medications and water pills [University of Maryland Medical Center].
Since I try to use stinging nettle every day for detox and blood building, I also want to make my own dried leaves and infusions with fresh leaves for the greatest benefits (some vitamins are destroyed with excessive heating, drying, sunlight and time). The stinging hairs are deactivated through drying, heating or soaking.
A very helpful resource on stinging nettle chemical composition and usage was provided in Dr. Christopher’s Legacy: Stinging Nettle by K. Vance.