Nettles and Their Constituents

It’s early Springtime and the Nettles have returned to Colorado! Today was a good day – I started with a large pinch of fresh young Nettle leaves, grasped quickly and firmly and plucked from the stem, rolled between my fingers and crushed into a juicy green ball (this method prevents stinging by breaking the fragile silica hairs), and popped into my mouth for a the zing of Life power, morning mental stimulation, and super-nutrition straight from the living Earth. There’s nothing quite like eating fresh, vibrant Nettles without getting stung!

I consider Nettles to be a super-food: not an expensive, exotic one, but a robust weedy free-for-all – a true herb of the people. Nettles, packed with beneficial vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, carotenoids, and flavonoids, goes a long way toward restoring health and nutrient repletion all by itself. You can eat it raw as above, or stuff the fresh young leaves and some diluted low-sugar juice (like Cranberry mixed ½ & ½ with water) into a blender and whizz until totally pulverized for an invigorating green drink. Do the same with straight Apple cider vinegar, and you have a mineral-rich herbal vinegar to add to salad dressings, sauces, soups, and any food where a touch of green-powered tart flavor is desired.

Of course, you can also cook those young Nettles – pluck the leaves from the fibrous stems, steam them for 5-10 minutes to break down the stingers, then use them as you would any other cooked green like Spinach or Kale; or cook them into soups, stews, and Instant Pot creations. They have all the virtues of your “dark leafy greens” and generally have a richer concentration of nutrients than the greens you can buy in stores.

Here are some notes on Nettles from our Fundamentals of Medical Herbalism classes:

Nettles (Urtica dioica) leaf

Vitalist energetics: neutral temperature (some experience mildly cooling, others mildly warming); quite drying, tonic/astringent, salty and somewhat sweet, nourishing, restoring.

Clinical actions: diuretic, nutrient-alterative, fundamental nutritive, connective-tissue and mucous-membrane strengthening, broad-spectrum restorative, energy-building, anti-inflammatory (can help relieve allergies), promotes detoxification, tonic for venous & lymphatic vessels, nutrient-adaptogen with an affinity for the urinary tract, the respiratory system, the reproductive system, and the adrenal glands.

  • Infusion of Nettles leaf is a mild, active diuretic, rich in potassium (like Dandelion leaf). Traditionally, a daily quart of dilute infusion has been used in “flushing-out” therapy for kidney stone prevention. Drink the whole quart within a half-hour, once a week, if you are prone to developing kidney stones.

  • Nettles leaf infusion a classic core herb for bladder infection (lower UTI) formulas. Its mild but persistent tonic/astringent action and rich flavonoid content helps soothe inflammation and repair the bladder mucosa, while its gentle diuretic action helps keep fluid moving through the system to flush out bacteria. Make a quart of standard infusion (one ounce of dried herbs to one quart of just-boiled water) in a ‘canning’ jar: 2 parts Nettles, 1 part of a demulcent herb (Marshmallow and/or Rose Hips), one part Yarrow leaf/flower, one part Echinacea root, and one heaping Tbsp. of a strong urinary tract antiseptic (Uva Ursi or Pipsissewa). Let this steep for a couple of hours and strain. Add water to return to a full quart. If you have it, squirt two droppersfull of Usnea tincture into this quart of infusion – or substitute two droppersfull of Super Echinacea™ tincture from Herb Pharm. Sip 2 cups throughout the day, while minimizing sugar, taking probiotics, and getting extra sleep. This almost always works to flush out a simple UTI within a couple of days. If the infection persists or you develop kidney pain (which feels like a lower backache) seek help from a health care professional. You don’t want your simple UTI to progress to a kidney infection!

  • Nettles leaf is rich in minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, silica, numerous trace minerals, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant flavonoids, carotenoids, triterpenoids, and chlorophyll. It’s my favorite nutritional tonic and is often thought of as a “women’s tonic herb” or a “fertility tonic” but it’s good for men as well. Traditionally, Nettles was considered to be a “blood-builder” which helps to restore energy and vitality. It can be especially restorative for pale, fatigued people and those convalescing from a long illness. This versatile herb features in many traditional “iron tonic” recipes like this one:

  • Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) root
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root
  • Burdock (Arctium lappa) root
  • Nettles (Urtica dioica) leaf
  • 3 parts Rumex, 1 part Taraxacum, 1 part Arctium
    • Make a standard infusion of the roots mixed together, then decoct (steam or gently simmer) down to half its original volume.
    • Blend the resulting concentrated liquid with 1/4 its volume of organic molasses (contains iron). Molasses also contains sugar, so skip this iron source if that’s an issue for you. Get your iron from organic liver or an herbal-based supplement like Gaia’s Plant Force Liquid Iron ™ instead.
    • Dispense 1 fluid ounce of this concentrated mixture in a cup of Nettles infusion.
    • This formula (minus the molasses) does not contain much iron; but it somehow works to increase the amount of iron in the blood (based on numerous hematocrit tests done by midwives).
  • Store the concentrate in refrigerator; it will not keep for long otherwise. Make enough to use up in a week or two. Take one dose in the a.m. and one in the p.m. Make the Nettles infusion as needed.
  • Urtica, Taraxacum, Rumex, and Arctium are all drying, so make sure to complement the formula with demulcents (e.g., Marshmallow, Rose hips) and pay attention to hydration.
  • One clinical study found that taking Urtica with Rumex was very effective, while Rumex alone did not have much of an effect.

Nettles for Detoxification

Nettles is the perfect green herb for “Spring Cleaning”! The body’s natural detoxification strategies include the Phase I (CYP 450) and Phase II (conjugation) enzyme systems which are found in the liver, digestive system mucosa, and kidneys. Supplying these enzymes with the nutrients they need for optimal function is a major part of the Vitalist approach for cleansing, nourishing, and restoring vibrant health. Nettles fits this bill perfectly with its rich supply of vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals which function as necessary enzyme cofactors and supportive substances for detoxification. Its rich antioxidant supply also helps neutralize the free radicals that are generated during the detoxification processes.

Nutrients and phytochemicals in Nettles that support detoxification



Trace minerals

Vitamin C

Polyphenolic antioxidants / flavonoids

Carotenoids (oil-soluble antioxidants)

Chlorophyll (nourishes and detoxifies)

For more information

  1. Urtica spp.: Ordinary Plants with Extraordinary Properties. A scientific review.
  2. Urtica dioica: A Monograph from the Alternative Medicine Review.
  3. Community Herbal Monograph on Urtica spp. from the European Medicines Agency.

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