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Nettle is the common name for any of between 30-45 species of flowering plants of the genus Urtica in the family Urticaceae, with a cosmopolitan though mainly temperate distribution. They are mostly herbaceous perennial plants, but some are annual and a few are shrubby. The most prominent member of the genus is the stinging nettle Urtica dioica, native to Europe, north Africa, Asia, and North America. The genus also contains a number of other species with similar properties, listed below. However, a large number of species names that will be encountered in this genus in the older literature (about 100 species have been described) are now recognised as synonyms of Urtica dioica. Some of these taxa are still recognised as subspecies. Most of the species listed below share the property of having stinging hairs, and can be expected to have very similar medicinal uses to the stinging nettle. The stings of Urtica ferox, the ongaonga or tree nettle of New Zealand, have been known to kill horses, dogs and at least one human.Connor, H.E. (1977). The Poisonous Plants in New Zealand. New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Bulletin 99. ISSN 0077-916XThe nature of the toxin secreted by nettles is not settled. The stinging hairs of most nettle species contain formic acid, serotonin and histamine; however recent studies of Urtica thunbergiana (Fu et al, 2006) implicate oxalic acid and tartaric acid rather than any of those substances, at least in that species.
Species of nettle Species in the genus Urtica, and their primary natural ranges, include:
CulinaryThe tops of growing nettles are a popular cooked green in many areas. Some cooks throw away a first water to get rid of the stinging compounds, while others retain the water and cook the nettles straight. Nettle tops are sold in some farmers' markets and natural food stores.
TeaThe fresh or dried leaves of nettle can be used to make a tea and commercial tea bags are commonly sold in natural food stores.
MedicalNettle is believed to be a galactagogueWestfall R.E., Galactagogue herbs: a qualitative study and review. Canadian Journal of Midwifery Research and Practice. 2(2):22-27. (2003) and a clinical trial has shown that the juice is diuretic in patients with congestive heart failure. Urtication, or flogging with nettles, is the process of deliberately applying stinging nettles to the skin in order to provoke inflammation. An agent thus used is known as a rubefacient (i.e. something that causes redness). This is done as a folk remedy for rheumatism, as it provides temporary relief from pain.Extracts can be used to treat arthritis, anemia, hay fever, kidney problems, and pain. Nettle is used in hair shampoos to control dandruff, and is said to make hair more glossy, which is why some farmers include a handful of nettles with cattle feed.Balch, Phyllis A., CNC, Balch, James F., M.D., Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Avery Press, p. 104 (2000) (ISBN 1-58333-077-1)Nettle root extracts have been extensively studied in human clinical trials as a treatment for symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). These extracts have been shown to help relieve symptoms compared to placebo both by themselves and when combined with other herbal medicines.Lopatkin N, Sivkov A, Walther C, Schlafke S, Medvedev A, Avdeichuk J, Golubev G, Melnik K, Elenberger N, Engelmann U. Long-term efficacy and safety of a combination of sabal and urtica extract for lower urinary tract symptoms: a placebo-controlled, double-blind, multi-center trial. World Journal of Urology. 2005 Jun 1Because it contains 3,4-divanillyltetrahydrofuran, certain extracts of the nettle are used by bodybuilders in an effort to increase free testosterone by occupying sex-hormone binding globulin.Fresh nettle, specifically Urtica Dioica, is used in folk remedies to stop all types of bleeding, due to its high Vitamin K content. Meanwhile, in dry Urtica Dioica, the Vitamin K is practically non-existent, and so is used as a blood thinner.
PaperNettle stems are a popular raw material used in small-scale papermaking.
TextilesNettle fibre has been used in textiles. This is more experimental than mass-market. Unlike cotton, nettles grow easily without pesticides. The fibres are coarser however.[http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/uk_news/england/leicestershire/3857445.stm]As well being the fibre, Nettles were also used as a dye-stuff in the medieval period.
Safety Though the fresh leaves can cause painful stings and acute urticaria, these are rarely seriously harmful (but see remarks in the introductory section re the U. ferox, ongaonga or tree nettle of New Zealand). Otherwise most species of nettles are extremely safe and some are even eaten as vegetables after being steamed to remove the stingers.Nettles can be picked painlessly by wearing a standard pair of washing-up gloves. Another common recommendation is to firmly grasp the nettle with the bare hand, crushing the stingers instead of allowing them to penetrate the skin. Done properly, this is effective in practice, however due to a natural hesitancy when grabbing a nettle, first time practitioners close their hand too gently and slowly and so get stung. A traditional verse goes "Tenderly you stroke a Nettle, and it stings you for your pains. Grasp it like a man of mettle, and it soft as silk remains." The traditional remedy for nettle stings is rubbing with the crushed leaf of the dock plant, Rumex obtusifolius, which often grows beside nettles in the wild and has a milky substance which can cause dermatitis. Plantain and Mallow are other traditional remedies. The alkalinity of the sap may counteract the nettle's acids. Nettle itself will release alkaline sap when macerated. While there is no scientific proof that this remedy works, searching for and using a dock leaf at least takes the mind off the stinging pain somewhat. Though unproven, some claim that dabbing mud on the affected area, allowing it to dry, and rubbing it off can remove the stingers. Another disputed claim is that the spores of certain ferns can lessen the pain by rubbing the underside of fern leaves, where the spores are located in rows of round, orange lumps, on the affected area. The nettle stingers can be removed from the skin quickly and effectively by wiping your skin with a chamois (same as used for drying cars). The inside of a leather glove works similarly. The nettle hairs stick to these textures more readily than your skin and a simple single wiping removes them from your skin.
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