by Ingri Cassel
The common stinging nettle is one of the most valuable medicinal plants in the entire plant kingdom. If people knew its value, they would harvest as much as they can gather rather than killing it with herbicides. I had been "out" of my supply of nettles and was determined this spring to get a bunch of tender nettles before it starts to flower. Since all of my past harvesting patches were too far away or were on private property that has changed owners, I called up an old friend and told her my dilemma. As synchronicity would have it, she, too, was seeking a nettles patch for a therapeutic salve she makes. After gathering quite a bit, I felt it was important to share with you the amazing properties of this plant, how to use each part of the plant, and the amazing health benefits you can gain from using it daily in the spring, or any other time you need it.
Nettles (Urtica dioica)—The Europeans used this plant for its medicinal properties for centuries. It is clear that the miraculous healing properties of nettles were well-known since variations of the following phrase have been cited in several historical herbal books: "The sting of the nettle is but nothing compared to the pains it heals."
Nettles grow near streams and moist bogs, in sun or in the shade, where the soil is rich. It is a perennial that can reach as high as three to four feet in the summer. The erect, square-shaped stem is densely covered with stinging hairs as are the underside of the leaves, which are ovate, tapering to a point with saw-like teeth on the sides. The sting is caused when the prickly hairs contact the skin that contains an irritating substance containing histamine and formic acid.
It is for this reason that anyone who values the plant’s properties and gathers it knows to wear gloves. I would have been better off wearing longer gloves since I experienced the constant warmth from the stinging sharp "hairs" for about 20 hours following harvesting. For me, it was not so unpleasant that I felt I needed to take emergency action – while others who have more sensitive skin should definitely wear more protective clothing while harvesting.
Medicinal properties, traditional uses
Nettles are a rich green color revealing its extremely high iron and chlorophyll content. It is also very high in the minerals calcium, magnesium, silicon, sulphur, copper, chromium, zinc, cobalt, potassium and phosphorus. Nettles also contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, D, E, and K as well as riboflavin and thiamine.
The entire nettles plant—stems, leaves, flowers and roots—has powerful medicinal properties . According to Swiss herbalist Abbé Kuenzle, nettles would have been wiped out long ago were it not for its stings since insects and wild animals would have eaten it away. When I read about this I had to laugh since every fall our comfrey patch is eaten down to the roots, and if we didn’t do something about the gophers, we probably wouldn’t have any comfrey at all.
My introduction to nettles
I wouldn’t have known the power of nettles if it were not for an elderly lady who came into Gentle Strength Food Coop in
Nettles is specific for the kidneys, being useful in expelling gravel from the bladder and dissolving kidney stones. It is a powerful blood purifier that drives out toxins and metabolic wastes by stimulating the kidneys to excrete more water. Nettles tea will clean out the entire intestinal tract while activating the body’s natural defense mechanisms. The tea will also kill and expel intestinal worms. A strong infusion (tea) is helpful in the treatment of dysentery, diarrhea, hemorrhoids and inflammation of the kidneys. It is also useful in the treatment of asthma since it helps expel phlegm from the lungs.
In the book, "The Family Herbal," authors Barbara and Peter Theiss recommend nettles tea as a long-term stimulation therapy for allergies, for people with poor complexions and as an additional discharging therapy in connection with all types of rheumatism and gout.
"We know of several cases where hayfever has been completely cured by drinking stinging nettle tea everyday from November through April, until the pollen season begins. You can easily see for yourself that stinging nettle has a diuretic effect: You will urinate more frequently and, in addition, the urine will tend to take on a darker color and stronger smell during the first few days of drinking the tea. People who have a predisposition to kidney stones have a chance to prevent them by drinking the tea regularly…The diuretic effect of the stinging nettle is also reflected in the strong, urine-like scent of the fully mature plant." In her famous book "Health Through God’s Pharmacy," Maria Trebbin recounts how she told a mother of seven children who suffered from eczema and headaches to drink nettles tea. In a short time she was free from both the headaches and eczema. Since the cause of both eczema and headaches is an accumulation of toxins internally, the blood-cleansing and blood-building properties of nettles resolved her health problems. Trebbin also noted that nettles assists in lowering blood sugar, having a healing effect on the pancreas. Her book is filled with stories that give people hope, especially those who have tried allopathic medicine only to find their conditions worsen:
"An elderly man who came to me three years ago had influenza. Since that time his urine was dark brown and he suffered from terrible headaches. Neither the prescribed medications he took nor the injections (lately in the head) brought relief. On the contrary, the headaches became worse; he was close to committing suicide. I gave him hope and recommended stinging nettle. He was to drink 2 ½ litres of the tea throughout the day. After four days he rang up to say that he felt better than even before the influenza."
Describing a different case, Trebbin wrote, "In our small town I met a woman who suffered….from cancerous growths in her stomach. She could not decide to have an operation because of her age. Someone told her to drink Stinging Nettle tea. So, every day, she went into her garden to pick a handful of Stinging Nettle from along the fence, where they grew in abundance. When, after a time, she went to see the doctor, he asked in surprise: ‘What happened?’ The growths had disappeared and the woman could enjoy a healthy old age."
Trebbin tells her readers that we should never let a condition get that far since a malignant growth would never form if we valued stinging nettle enough to drink it as a tea at regular intervals.
Susun Weed in her book, "Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year," highly recommends drinking both nettles and raspberry leaf tea throughout pregnancy. She specifically recommends drinking nettle tea during the last month of pregnancy to insure that large amounts of vitamin K are in the blood for the birth.
She recalls a woman who was told she would need to be put on a dialysis machine and used nettles tea as a part of her therapy to rebuild her kidneys, thus avoiding the dialysis machine. According to Weed: "Since the kidneys must cleanse 150 percent of the normal blood volume for most of the pregnancy, Nettles’ ability to nourish and strengthen them is of major importance. Any accumulation of minerals in the kidneys, such as gravel and stones, is gently loosened, dissolved and eliminated by the consistent use of Nettle infusions."
Nettles are used to increase fertility in both men and women. Due to its high calcium content, the tea is specific for easing leg cramps and other muscles spasms, and also diminishes pain during and after birth.
We will end here by saying that humble stinging nettles is one of the most valuable plants in the herb kingdom, having the ability to cure "whatever" ails you. This last testimony from a letter written to Maria Trebbin should inspire all of us to start using nettles tea regularly:
"Many thanks for your invaluable help. For 19 years I have been suffering and no physician could tell me what was wrong with me, although I consulted many. One week long I drank Nettle tea and miraculously my illness was gone, as if I had never suffered."
Nettle is one of the most beneficial herbs grown in this world. Native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and
Health Benefits Of Nettle Tea
- For women suffering from excessive menstrual bleeding or premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, drinking nettle tea might prove beneficial. It is also used to reduce water retention and treat anemia.
- The tea has been found to be rich in sterols, an ingredient that seems to help decrease the action of DHT, a testosterone that is regarded as the culprit behind prostate enlargement.
- If you suffer from springtime allergies, drinking nettle tea three times a day can prove to be beneficial. Apart from that, the tea can help treat tuberculosis, coughs, urinary tract infections, and a variety of intestinal disorders.
Europe, the tea was once used in the treatment of scurvy. On the other hand, Russians still consider it to be a treasured antiseptic and astringent. It is used to stop nose bleeding, apart from being used to improve heart action and cure headaches.
- The tea has been found to be rich in natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory substances. This is the reason why it is used to open blocked nasal and bronchial passages and regarded as a beneficial herbal remedy for treating hay fever.
- Nettle tea has proved effective in ousting gravel from the bladder and dissolving kidney stones. It also stimulates the kidneys to excrete more water, thus helping the body get rid of toxins and metabolic wastes and serving as a valuable blood purifier.
- The tea can help clean out the entire intestinal tract, while killing and expelling intestinal worms as well. It also sets in motion the body's natural defense mechanisms.
- Nettle tea is being used in the treatment of dysentery, diarrhea, hemorrhoids and inflammation of the kidneys. Since it helps get rid of phlegm from the lungs, it is being considered for asthma treatment as well.
- It is believed that the tea serves as an excellent tonic for women. Native American women used to drink it during pregnancy. It was also used to stop excessive bleeding that followed child birth.
- It is said that after giving birth to a child, a woman should consume nettle tea, as it has the ability to restore a woman's energy and can also stimulate milk production.
Some More Benefits
- Nettle tea can help ease leg cramps and other muscles spasms.
- The tea is used to increase fertility in both men and women.
- It can aid the formation and coagulation of blood cells.
- Nettle tea is used to treat arthritis, rheumatism and benign prostate.
- The tea proves beneficial for people suffering from hair loss.
- It can aid the treatment of respiratory and urinary problems.
Making nettle tea
- I make it strong in a tea ball- to taste
- Add ginger- I freeze the root and scrape or us a grader, in to the pot
- Let it steep for at least 10 minutes
- Pour the tea into a cup and add honey to taste.
Ginger tea is also said to reduce excessive perspiration, act as an aphrodisiac, and freshen one’s breath. Not bad for the stem of a plant that grows underground.
Historically, ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative (a substance which promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract). Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-inflammatory effects.
A clue to ginger's success in eliminating gastrointestinal distress is offered by recent double-blind studies, which have demonstrated that ginger is very effective in preventing the symptoms of motion sickness, especially seasickness. In fact, in one study, ginger was shown to be far superior to Dramamine, a commonly used over-the-counter and prescription drug for motion sickness. Ginger reduces all symptoms associated with motion sickness including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweating.
Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances are believed to explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. In two clinical studies involving patients who responded to conventional drugs and those who didn't, physicians found that 75% of arthritis patients and 100% of patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief of pain and/or swelling.
Arthritis-related problems with your aging knees? Regularly spicing up your meals with fresh ginger may help, suggests a study published in a recent issue of Osteoarthritis Cartilage. In this twelve month study, 29 patients with painful arthritis in the knee (6 men and 23 women ranging in age from 42-85 years) participated in a placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study. Patients switched from placebo to ginger or visa versa after 3 months. After six months, the double-blind code was broken and twenty of the patients who wished to continue were followed for an additional six months.
By the end of the first six month period, those given ginger were experiencing significantly less pain on movement and handicap than those given placebo. Pain on movement decreased from a score of 76.14 at baseline to 41.00, while handicap decreased from 73.47 to 46.08. In contrast, those who were switched from ginger to placebo experienced an increase in pain of movement (up to 82.10) and handicap (up to 80.80) from baseline. In the final phase of the study when all patients were getting ginger, pain remained low in those already taking ginger in phase 2, and decreased again in the group that had been on placebo.
Not only did participants' subjective experiences of pain lessen, but swelling in their knees, an objective measurement of lessened inflammation, dropped significantly in those treated with ginger. The mean target knee circumference in those taking ginger dropped from 43.25cm when the study began to 39.36cm by the 12th week. When this group was switched to placebo in the second phase of the study, their knee circumferences increased, while those who had been on placebo but were now switched to ginger experienced a decrease in knee circumference. In the final phase, when both groups were given ginger, mean knee circumference continued to drop, reaching lows of 38.78 and 36.38 in the two groups.
How does ginger work its anti-inflammatory magic? Two other recent studies provide possible reasons.
A study published in the November 2003 issue of Life Sciences suggests that at least one reason for ginger's beneficial effects is the free radical protection afforded by one of its active phenolic constituents, 6-gingerol. In this in vitro (test tube) study, 6-gingerol was shown to significantly inhibit the production of nitric oxide, a highly reactive nitrogen molecule that quickly forms a very damaging free radical called peroxynitrite. Another study appearing in the November 2003 issue of Radiation Research found that in mice, five days treatment with ginger (10 mg per kilogram of body weight) prior to exposure to radiation not only prevented an increase in free radical damage to lipids (fats found in numerous bodily components from cell membranes to cholesterol), but also greatly lessened depletion of the animals' stores of glutathione, one of the body's most important internally produced antioxidants.
A study published in the February 2005 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine sheds further light on the mechanisms of action that underlie ginger's anti-inflammatory effectiveness. In this research, ginger was shown to suppress the pro-inflammatory compounds (cytokines and chemokines) produced by synoviocytes (cells comprising the synovial lining of the joints), chrondrocytes (cells comprising joint cartilage) and leukocytes (immune cells).
Protection against Colorectal Cancer
Gingerols, the main active components in ginger and the ones responsible for its distinctive flavor, may also inhibit the growth of human colorectal cancer cells, suggests research presented at the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, a major meeting of cancer experts that took place in
In this study, researchers from the University of Minnesota's Hormel Institute fed mice specially bred to lack an immune system a half milligram of -gingerol three times a week before and after injecting human colorectal cancer cells into their flanks. Control mice received no -gingerol.
Tumors first appeared 15 days after the mice were injected, but only 4 tumors were found in the group of -gingerol-treated mice compared to 13 in the control mice, plus the tumors in the -gingerol group were smaller on average. Even by day 38, one mouse in the -gingerol group still had no measurable tumors. By day 49, all the control mice had been euthanized since their tumors had grown to one cubic centimeter (0.06 cubic inch), while tumors in 12 of the -gingerol treated mice still averaged 0.5 cubic centimeter-half the maximum tumor size allowed before euthanization.
Research associate professor Ann Bode noted, "These results strongly suggest that ginger compounds may be effective chemopreventive and/or chemotherapeutic agents for colorectal carcinomas."
In this first round of experiments, mice were fed ginger before and after tumor cells were injected. In the next round, researchers will feed the mice ginger only after their tumors have grown to a certain size. This will enable them to look at the question of whether a patient could eat ginger to slow the metastasis of a nonoperable tumor. Are they optimistic? The actions of the
Ginger Induces Cell Death in Ovarian Cancer Cells
Lab experiments presented at the 97th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer, by Dr Rebecca Lui and her colleagues from the
Ginger extracts have been shown to have both antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects on cells. To investigate the latter, Dr Liu examined the effect of a whole ginger extract containing 5% gingerol on a number of different ovarian cancer cell lines.
Exposure to the ginger extract caused cell death in all the ovarian cancer lines studied.
A pro-inflammatory state is thought to be an important contributing factor in the development of ovarian cancer. In the presence of ginger, a number of key indicators of inflammation (vascular endothelial growth factor, interleukin-8 and prostaglandin E2) were also decreased in the ovarian cancer cells.
Conventional chemotherapeutic agents also suppress these inflammatory markers, but may cause cancer cells to become resistant to the action of the drugs. Liu and her colleagues believe that ginger may be of special benefit for ovarian cancer patients because cancer cells exposed to ginger do not become resistant to its cancer-destroying effects. In the case of ovarian cancer, an ounce of prevention-in the delicious form of liberal use of ginger-is an especially good idea. Ovarian cancer is often deadly since symptoms typically do not appear until late in the disease process, so by the time ovarian cancer is diagnosed, it has spread beyond the ovaries. More than 50% of women who develop ovarian cancer are diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease.
Immune Boosting Action
Ginger can not only be warming on a cold day, but can help promote healthy sweating, which is often helpful during colds and flus. A good sweat may do a lot more than simply assist detoxification. German researchers have recently found that sweat contains a potent germ-fighting agent that may help fight off infections. Investigators have isolated the gene responsible for the compound and the protein it produces, which they have named dermicidin. Dermicidin is manufactured in the body's sweat glands, secreted into the sweat, and transported to the skin's surface where it provides protection against invading microorganisms, including bacteria such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus (a common cause of skin infections), and fungi, including Candida albicans.
Ginger is so concentrated with active substances, you don't have to use very much to receive its beneficial effects. For nausea, ginger tea made by steeping one or two 1/2-inch slices (one 1/2-inch slice equals 2/3 of an ounce) of fresh ginger in a cup of hot water will likely be all you need to settle your stomach. For arthritis, some people have found relief consuming as little as a 1/4-inch slice of fresh ginger cooked in food, although in the studies noted above, patients who consumed more ginger reported quicker and better relief.
The spice ginger is the underground rhizome of the ginger plant, known botanically as Zingiber officinale. The plant's botanical name is thought to be derived from its Sanskrit name "singabera" which means "horn shaped," a physical characteristic that ginger reflects.
The flesh of the ginger rhizome can be yellow, white or red in color, depending upon the variety. It is covered with a brownish skin that may either be thick or thin, depending upon whether the plant was harvested when it was mature or young. The ginger rhizome has a firm, yet striated texture and a taste that is aromatic, pungent and hot.
Native to southeastern
Today, the top commercial producers of ginger include