The stinging nettle plant (Urtica dioica) is the best known of the family of nettle plants, also known as the genus Urtica in the family Urticaceae. At first glance, they might not seem like an ideal herbal infusion. In addition to being a popular food amongst caterpillars and butterflies, they bear needle-like points which are extremely irritating to the skin.
However, stinging nettles make a fantastic tonic herb and culinary herb, and can be used as an ingredient in everything from pasta dishes to stews to herbal ‘teas’ and tonics. Nettle leaves and roots may be used topically as a powder or juice, or be consumed in food, beverage or supplement form.
Nettle ‘tea’ (actually an infusion or decoction, depending on how you prepare it) is often considered to be one of the best herbal infusions for overall health and wellness. Nettles can be boiled or steeped on their own or added into herb blends with herbs like raspberry leaves, lemon balm, peppermint, lemon peel, vervain and alfalfa.
On its own, nettle tea has an herbaceous, rich taste that some compare to an earthy, sweet version of seaweed.
How to Make Nettle Tea
For a regular infusion, nettle tea can be steeped for five minutes up to 20 minutes with water that has reached a rolling boil. It can also be boiled for a few minutes and then strained for a decoction, or it can be steeped at room temperature overnight for a strong tonic. Generally, one teaspoon of fresh or dried nettle per cup of ‘tea’ is a good ratio, though some people use up to four teaspoons of dry leaf per 2/3 cup water. For a stronger infusion, you can crush the leaves with a mortar and pestle just before adding the water.
A maximum dosage of four cups a day is recommended.
Health Benefits of Nettle Tea
Nettle was used in ancient Greece and Rome. In Mediaeval Europe, nettle was considered a panacea of sorts, and used for all manner of ailments. Today, it is often thought of as a superfood / superherb. Despite this, scientific research on nettle’s health benefits is limited. However, a number of studies demonstrate that nettle is effective at managing and easing allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, congestion, itching and inflammation. Additionally, nettles are used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia / enlarged prostates.
In traditional use and alternative medicine, nettle tea is used as a blood purifier, circulation increaser, fertility aid (for men and women alike), and wound healing aid, as well as a treatment for anemia, arthritis, congestive heart failure, eczema, endocrine disorders, excessive menstruation, hay fever and mucous in the lungs, high blood pressure, kidney and liver problems, fibromyalgia, gout, hemorrhoids, malabsorption syndrome, muscle pain / other pain, nosebleeds, urinary tract infections / urinary retention and varicose veins. Nettle tea is considered to be slightly laxative and warming. Some people also use it long-term for spleen conditions (which can be treated over a period of several weeks), diabetes (for which nettle tea is said to decrease blood sugar and glycemic levels), for fighting bacterial infections and viruses, and for reducing inflammation and treating inflammation-associated illnesses.
Nettle tea is also high in many nutrients, particularly Vitamin A, various B Vitamins (including B-1, B-2, B-3 and B-5), Vitamin C, amino acids, calcium, fatty acids, folic acid, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and potassium, as well as numerous phytonutrients and antioxidants, including acetic acid, beta-carotene, betaine, caffeic acid and lycopene. For this reason, it is widely appreciated as a healthful drink. Beyond this, it is regarded as a general tonic and a detoxifying ‘tea’, particularly for those suffering from hangovers and those who are quitting smoking.
Nettle Tea Safety & Side Effects
Although nettle is generally considered to be safe and nontoxic, there are some side effects associated with its improper use. These include stomach upset, skin irritation, skin rash and sweating, as well as interactions with certain drugs (such as anti-platelet, anticoagulant, anti-hypertensive, blood pressure, blood thinner, diuretic, diabetes, insomnia and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and lithium). Side effects tend to be more common when the root is made into tea than when the tea is made from nettle leaves.
The maximum recommended use of nettle tea is four cups per day.
Also, although some women find nettle tea to be beneficial during pregnancy (as it supports the kidneys, which are often depleted during pregnancy), excess consumption of nettle tea may interfere with the lining of the uterus.
As with all herbal remedies, it is highly recommended that you consult with a doctor or herbalist before beginning treatment with nettle tea.