A Wealth of Nettle Benefits

Go beyond their sting to find a wealth of nettle benefits. They are rich in protein, ­vitamins and more.

| July/August 1998

  • If you think of nettle leaves primarily in terms of their sting, it may be difficult to consider including them in your diet. But as it is unusually rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, it can make one of the most nutritious dishes.
    Photo By unpict/Fotolia
  • Steamed nettle leaves taste like spinach, and they can be combined with other ­vegetables to make a satisfying, protein-rich soup
    David Cavagnaro
  • Nutrients are concentrated in nettle leaves, which have been used for centuries to cleanse and detoxify the body, possibly ­because they have a diuretic action, ­encouraging the flushing of waste.
  • Steamed nettle leaves taste like spinach, and they can be combined with other ­vegetables to make a satisfying, protein-rich soup

It's a wonder anyone ever got past the nettle’s sting to find the wealth of protein, vitamins, and minerals within. But they did find many nettle benefits, and we’re fortunate. In var­ious studies, dried nettles have been shown to contain between 25 and 42 percent protein—making them one of the best-known green vegetable sources of protein. They’re also rich in calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and contain high levels of potassium, selenium, and other minerals, as well as vitamins B, C, and A.

TRY THIS: Nettle Soup recipe

Ancient Health: Nettle History

Nettles have been used medicinally for centuries. The most ancient medical use of this prickly plant was for urtication—whipping paralyzed limbs with fresh nettles to bring muscles into action. Oldtime herbalists used to slap the flesh of arthritis sufferers with nettles to counter pain. In more recent times, hot poultices of nettle leaves have been used for this purpose.

Roman soldiers planted stinging nettles throughout Europe’s colder regions and rubbed the plants on their legs and arms to warm their blood. In commercial trade, mature nettle plants were an important source of fiber for making paper, rope, and cloth for fine table and bed linens. So versatile are nettles that the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell once reported, “In Scotland, I have eaten nettle, have slept in ­nettle sheets, and have dined off a nettle tablecloth.”

Modern Medicine: Nettle

Today, nettles are widely used in alternative medicine. Because of their diuretic action—once ingested, they encourage the flushing of the system—they are often included in cleansing diets. In Germany, a preparation of nettle roots is approved by authorities to relieve urinary problems associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). And in many studies, nettles have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of hay fever; nettles can produce allergic reactions in some people though, so try small quantities at first to see how you’ll react.

Why do some nettles sting?

Three species of stinging nettle are common in the United States—Urtica dioica, U. chamaedryoides, and U. urens. U. urens and one variety of U. dioica were intentionally imported from Europe for food, medicine, and fiber, and they have since become naturalized throughout the United States. The rest are natives and equally useful. They all may be found growing along roadsides and ­ditches, in moist woods and thickets, in rubbish heaps, and in gardens and other places where the soil is moist and rich in nitrogen.

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