Nettle, aka Urtica dioica or Urtica urens, is a mainstay of modern herbal medicine. In part, that’s because nettles are pretty much a robust multi-vitamin in plant form. They’re often described as sweet and salty. The salty taste is because of their mineral content, which doesn’t make them taste salty on the tongue but does add the same nourishment to the body as other foods in the salty category that do taste saltier, like seaweeds. The sweet taste is truly a description of nettles ability to nourish the tissues.
From the Traditional Western and Traditional Chinese Herbal perspective, nettles are drying and heating, both mildly so. They’re known as Xun Ma in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where they’re included in formulas that help open and dry the Lung, Liver, and Kidney meridians.
Nettles are perfect for times when you want to nourish the blood and drain or move fluids that have started to pool or stagnate. Modern Western herbalists use nettles as a diuretic and astringent in these formulas. Nettles are particularly indicated when you see signs of heat, such as hot flashes or red tones on the tongue in the Liver (sides), Kidney (back), or lung (front) regions. Signs of blood stagnation, like adult acne, or Yin deficiency, like night sweats, dry skin, dull hair, or brittle nails also indicate the use of nettles.
Congestion in the lungs or upper respiratory system can point to the use of nettles, too. Modern Western herbalists use nettles to treat these conditions in alignment with nettles’ astringent and anti-histamine properties, most often including them in formulas for allergies as opposed to flus and colds. In Traditional Chinese Herbal Formulas nettles is used not just for cleansing environmental toxins, such as pollen, from the lungs. They’re also used for helping the energy of the lungs dry and move, reducing phlegm build-up and allowing the respiratory system to dry and return to a state of balance. Nettles can be used in formulas to reduce congested conditions in the skin, like eczema and shingles, that are related to the lung or liver meridians as well.
As a diuretic and mild laxative, nettles are used by modern herbalists in formulas designed to cleanse and detoxify the tissues. In these formulas, nettles often offer up nourishing properties to support the system as it cleanses and drains. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, this is a form of cleansing and building the blood and clearing or nourishing the Yin. Nettles can be included in spring detox or cleanse formulas as well as those designed to support the body during recovery from illness or injury, especially from conditions which allow dampness to collect. They’re also perfect in formulas to support pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding for these reasons. Traditional Chinese Herbalists may also use nettles in formulas designed to reduce excess bleeding, such as in postpartum care, or remove mineral build-up, like that of kidney stones.
In Ayurvedic formulas, nettles can help move stagnant or stuck Kapha energy, helping to bring the doshas back into balance. They can be used to help clear obstructive Vata conditions, particularly those of a damp or clogged nature akin to excess or stuck Kapha energy and those of stuck and heavy ama. In Ayurvedic herbalism, nettles are considered cooling and pungent with an astringent taste. They’re best aligned with Pitta energy, helping to gently cool and clear overheated conditions.
In most formulas, nettles plays a supporting role rather than the star. Their combination of nourishment and gentle draining actions make them appropriate as support to stronger or more specialized herbs particularly when those herbs are aiming to clear strong damp conditions or to warm cold, stuck conditions. Their gentle but firm nature makes them a balancing agent when a stronger formula is called for, particularly when the dominant action you’re looking for is one of heating or moving. Nettles have a particular affinity for helping to clear and transform that which is boggy, stuck, slightly fetid, and toxic.
Cautions: Be careful when using nettles in conditions where blood clotting is problematic. Nettles are high in Vitamin K, which helps to stop blood loss. Those taking pharmaceuticals to increase blood clotting need to use caution when taking nettles. Folks taking pharmaceutical diuretics need to use caution with nettle, as well, because nettle is a diuretic.
- Annette Zoe Fallian, L. Ac.
- The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification by Matthew Wood
- The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines by Matthew Wood
- The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine
- “Nourishing with Stinging” Nettles by April Crowell
- “Nettle (Xun Ma)” by East West Healing Academy