Nettle (Xun Ma)

Nettle (Xun Ma)

Botanical Name: Urtica Dioica

Nettles have been used for food, medicine and even to make fabric from. They are famous for being able to relieve almost all symptoms caused by allergies: itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, running nose, and nasal inflammation. The herb’s tonic properties are considered to be anti-aging and help purify the blood. Nettle’s fibers have been used by many cultures, ancient and modern, to make cloth. Nettles also help break curses and spells.

Below is an overview of Nettle, combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Nettle.

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Western Name: Nettle

Also Known As: Stinging Nettles

Organs/Systems: Lungs, Prostrate, Bladder

Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Decongestant, Antihistamine, Anti-inflammatory, Diuretic, Immune Enhancing, Astringing, Tonic.


Pin Yin: Xun Ma

Also Known As: N/A

Meridians: Lung, Liver, Kidney

Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Tonifies the Lungs/Treats Skin: eczema, congested lungs, coughs, asthma, shingles. Purifies Blood: cleanses the Blood from environmental toxins and toxins in food.  Drains Phlegm/Astringing; urinary tract infections, allergy congestion, gout, edema.  Builds Blood/Enriches Kidney and Liver Yin: hot flashes, night sweats, dry skin, dull hair, brittle nails, regulate menses. Stops Bleeding: hemorrhage, post partum bleeding, heavy menses. Regulates Metabolism: improves stamina, poor appetite, improves lactation.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Heart shape, finely-toothed leaves that taper to a point and are covered in fine stinging hairs. The flowers are green in long, branched clusters.  Male and female flowers can be found on one plant, but usually a plant will bear either male or female flowers which bloom from June to September.  The plant’s perennial roots are creeping, allowing it to multiply quickly.

Nettles are native to Africa and Western Asia.  It is now naturalized across the globe.  It likes temperate climates, preferring shady regions with moist soils.

Nettle (Xun Ma) Parts Most Frequently Used: Leaf, Root, Seeds

Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Astringing, Cool, Dry

Caution: Considered very safe, may cause allergic rash when handling due to the plants “sting,” wear gloves when handling.

History/Folklore: In Ancient Greece, nettles were used primarily as a diuretic and laxative. The genus name, Urtica, derives from the Latin word “uro,” meaning to burn, as the plant is well known for its burning stinging properties due to the fluid contained in its stinging hairs on the leaves.  An East Indian species is powerful enough to sting and burn for days.  The species name, dioica, means “of two houses” and refers to the plant being male and female.

In Ancient Egypt, the oil from the seeds was burned in lamps and in Arab countries nettle seeds were ground and mixed with horses food to bring a gloss to their coats.

In Ancient Rome, soldiers would bring nettle seeds with them to rub in to cold chapped skin to help counter act the effects of numbness due to extreme cold on their limbs.

The word “nettle” is thought to have derived from German or Scandinavia from the word “netel or noedl” meaning a needle as not only does the plant sting like being pricked by needles but is was also used to supply thread before flax or hemp was available.

“Net” means to “spin or sew.”  Its fibers can make fine textiles or course (such as might be used for sailcloth or sacking). The nettles were cut, dried and steeped, with the fibers then being separated to be spun into yarn. Both hemp and flax were introduced into the Northern Europe to replace the use of nettles.  Studies have shown that good nettle is equal to cotton in terms of quality and durability. In 1915, Germany used nettle to make cloth for their military uniforms. Using nettles to make fabric is an ancient art in China with hand-woven fabrics being found in mummy cases that date back as far as the fifteenth dynasty.

Besides being used as cotton substitute, nettles have been used for sugar, starch, protein and ethyl alcohol production.

Nettles have been used for centuries to treat allergy symptoms, particularly hay fever. In Germany, nettles are a common ingredient in herbal prescriptions for rheumatic and inflammatory complaints, including prostate enlargement.

The healing powers of nettles are steeped in folklore. There is an old fairy tale, The Wild Swans, in which the heroine must weave a shirt of nettle leaves if she is to save her brothers from a curse that turned them into swans. It has been said that stings from the nettle can prevent sorcery. Nettles are a good protective plant that are considered good at breaking spells and jinxes.

Nettles are used in potions designed to transition a difficult situation into a nurturing one. The leaves can be burned to drive out negative energies or break curses.

The herbs ability to clear uric acid wastes from the body make it a good herb for treating eczema, gout, arthritis and kidney stones.

Nettle leaves can be placed against the skin to externally treat arthritic pain and the branches of the stinging plant can be swiped at the inflected area to also provide relief from arthritis.

An infusion of the dried herb, alcoholic tincture made from the fresh plant or juice of the fresh herb in doses of 1-2 tablespoons is famously used to stop uterine bleeding, nosebleeds, and internal bleeding. Nettles can help treat anemia, poor circulation and an enlarged spleen. Nettles are considered one of the best all around female tonics as they are excellent for women starting their menses and women entering menopause.

Nettle roots are used to aid urinary dysfunction caused by enlarged prostate or infection. This includes nighttime urination, kidney stones, painful urination, irritable bladder and frequent urination.

A common tea can be made by pouring 1 cup of just boiled water over 1-2 teaspoons of the herb. Steep for ten minutes and take 3 times a day.  Honey can be added as a sweetener. To eat the leaves as a vegetable gather the top 6-8 inches of the plant’s young spring tops and wash them in running water with a stick, place the dripping sprigs in a sauce pan without adding any water and saute with just butter salt and pepper. This delicious dish of greens will have slight laxative properties and remember, this recipe is only for the young tops of nettle plants, by autumn the leaves are too hurtful and full of the stinging crystals they contain.

The burning property of the stinging juice is dissipated with heat, enabling the young shoots of the nettle to be eaten when boiled.

Steamed the leaves can be eaten in salads, soups, stews and pastas. The healthy and nutritious roots are a wonderful vegetable and easy to digest.

The sting of a nettle can be cured and eased by rubbing the afflicted area with rosemary, mint or sage leaves.

Plants are harvested in May and June, just before coming into flower. The seeds and flowers can be dried in the sun.

Their presence in the environment is a good sign of nitrogen rich soil. Tradition says that nettles grow where either a human or animal once lived, probably due to the high levels of nitrogen and phosphates found in the soil where decomposition has occurred.

Those plants that are in rich deep soil can grow to be 5 to 6 feet tall and are the best for producing fiber from.  If planted in the neighborhood of beehives, it is said nettles will drive away frogs.  The plants are also an important food for the larvae of butterflies and moths.

Nettle beer was a an Old English folk remedy used by elders to help cure gout and rheumatic pains, but the beer can also be enjoyed simply for its flavor.  Nettles can be used as a substitute for rennet in cheese making.

The juice of the plant is stronger medicinally than either the leaves or the root.

Cows will produce more milk if fed nettles that have been picked and allowed to wilt, so the “sting” is gone, than they will if only fed hay. Horses and cattle suffering from malnutrition and digestive problems have improved when fed wilted nettles.  Dried and powdered nettles added to food for poultry increases their egg production and improves their health.

Don’t confuse stinging nettle (Uritica dioica) with white, yellow or purple dead nettle (Lamium album) they are four different plants.  All of the “dead” nettles are called “dead” due to the fact that they do not sting and can be properly identified by their hollow, square stalks. White dead nettle (Lamium album) can be further identified once they are in bloom as their flowers are very different.  Purple dead nettles (Lamium purpureum) have heart or kidney-shaped leaves that are blunt and not pointed. Yellow dead nettle (Lamium galeobdolon) has flowers that grow in whorls and are longer than the stinging nettles (Uritica dioica) are.

Key Constituents:

Silicon, Protein, Potassium, Chlorophyll, Vitamins A, D, C, K, and B complex, Formic acid, Iron Phosphates, Histamine, Serotonin, Choline, Minerals, Amino acids, Lecithin, Carotenoids, Flavonoids, Sterols, Tannins, Vitamins, Alkaloids, Astragalin, Butyric acid, Caffeic acids, Carbonic acid, Chlorophyll, Stigmasterol, Terpenes, and Quercetin. The stinging fluid’s active ingredient is Bicarbonate of Ammonia.

Did you know?

Prevent Baldness

Nettle leaves are used to help prevent baldness.


Ease Nettle's Sting

The sting of a nettle can be cured and eased by rubbing the afflicted area with rosemary, mint or sage leaves.

Fun fact!

Treat an Enlarged Prostate

The roots are used successfully to treat the early stages of enlarged prostate.


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