It might seem counterintuitive to brew a tea from a plant that is considered a nuisance and harmful to the skin. The best surprises are wrapped in the most unlikely packages. Stinging nettle tea is a great place to start if you're looking to expand your tea flavors and want to try something new.
Made from the leaves of the stinging nettle plant, this tea is a surprise in a cup. While the plants may be a nuisance when you're gardening or enjoying the great outdoors, it's a true delight when brewed in your teacup. Find out more about stinging nettle tea and its benefits.
Nettle tea is made from the nettle plant known by the botanical name Urtica dioica. Other common names include stinger, common nettle, and nettle leaf tea. The plant is native to Europe, but can now be found across the globe from New Zealand to North America and Latin America.
The flowering plant has long been a staple in traditional medicine. The Ancient Greeks used nettle leaves to treat pain and body aches. Scandinavian societies during the Iron Age used nettle plant fibers to create textiles (1). Today, the plant is commonly used for seasonal rhinitis and to prevent blood disorders (2).
The nettle plant is largely known for its delicate hairs that can cause a stinging and burning sensation. Touching the plant can cause itching, redness, and irritation to the skin. However, when the nettle leaves are brewed in hot water, the stinging hairs are deactivated, making it safe for consumption.
Nettle tea contains compounds that work to decrease inflammation. Inflammation is part of the body's natural defense system. When inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to serious problems including arthritis and joint pain. Drinking nettle tea may help to reduce inflammation and thus systems of chronic disease.
Research published in Germany showed that nettle extract decreased inflammation of cells in a test tube trial (3). Additional research in the lab showed that nettle's anti-inflammatory properties come from its inhibitory effect on certain transcription factors in the human body (4).
There is also research on the effects of nettle on inflammation in humans. A study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine consisted of 27 participants in a randomized, double-blind, crossover trial. All patients suffered from chronic osteoarthritis pain in the hands. Researchers found that patients who applied nettle leaf directly to sore joints demonstrated significant decreases in pain compared to a placebo (5).
Another human study published in Arthritis Research Therapy examined the effects of nettle extract on osteoarthritis in the knees and hips. The study consisted of 81 patients who received either a water pill or a mixture of vitamin E, fish oil, and nettle extract. Researchers found that patients who took the nettle leaf mixture reported significant decreases in inflammation, stiffness, and pain (6).
Drinking nettle tea may be useful for the health of your prostate — particularly if you suffer from an enlarged prostate. An enlarged prostate is a medical condition where the prostate gland is larger than normal. The disorder is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and can cause discomfort and painful urination.
A study published in 2005 investigated the impacts of stinging nettle leaves of BPH. The research consisted of a six-month placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind study with 620 participants. Patients who took a nettle extract showed a modest decrease in prostate size and a significant improvement in urine flow and pain symptoms (7). More research is needed to see if the stinging nettle plant may be beneficial in preventing or treating other prostate disorders including prostate cancer.
One of the traditional uses of nettle leaf is in the treatment of hay fever. Hay fever is a common allergic reaction to seasonal triggers such as pollen and dust. Research shows that taking nettle tea may help to decrease symptoms and improve allergic reactions.
A laboratory study published in Phytotherapy Research analyzed the effects of nettle extract on allergic rhinitis. Researchers found that nettle extract helped to decrease the allergy reaction by inhibiting histamine. It also decreased inflammation and prevented the body from producing chemicals such as prostaglandin that are associated with hay fever symptoms such as a runny nose and itchy eyes (8).
Human studies have shown mixed results when it comes to nettle and hay fever symptoms. These studies show only a modest improvement in symptoms compared to placebo (9). More research is needed to establish the mainstream use of nettle for allergies.
Stinging nettle leaves and stinging nettle root contain high concentrations of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for humans. The plants contain a nutritious cocktail of vitamins A and C as well as B vitamins and vitamin K. Vitamin C and A are beneficial for immunity while B vitamins help to convert nutrients into energy (10). Vitamin K is essential for blood coagulation and is also useful in building up calcium in bones (11).
In addition to these vitamins, nettle leaves contain minerals such as potassium and calcium along with essential amino acids and healthy fats. The leaves also contain beta-carotene and lutein — two compounds that are great for eye health.
Animal and laboratory research shows that stinging nettle may be beneficial for heart health. Research published in the Journal of Translational Medicine found that nettle leaves help improve relaxation in blood vessels thus lowering blood pressure (12). Lower blood pressure has been associated with improved heart health.
An animal study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology also found that nettle leaves help to improve heart health. Researchers found that rats that were given nettle extract had significant decreases in high blood pressure levels compared to a placebo (13).
Drinking nettle tea or taking a nettle root extract may help to lower blood sugar levels and boost insulin sensitivity. A study published in Phytotherapy Research found that nettle extract significantly improved the uptake of glucose. The tolerance of insulin was likely increased due to the presence of peptides in the nettle extract (14).
Nettle tea has long been used in herbal medicine as a treatment for urinary tract disorders. Researchers found that nettle extract helped to inhibit pathogens that can cause infections that lead to kidney stones and recurrent UTIs (15). The plant may also help to improve water retention to minimize the frequent urge to urinate.
Stinging nettle tea is safe to consume when prepared properly and in moderate amounts. Always make sure to boil the leaves in hot water to deactivate the stinging hairs. Common side effects include allergic reaction, skin rash, and a burning sensation when prepared improperly.
Always talk to a qualified healthcare professional before drinking herbal teas. Nettle tea may cause interactions with certain medications including blood thinners, diabetes medications, diuretics, and blood sugar medications. Pregnant women should not drink nettle tea as it may cause uterine contractions.
Nettle tea can be consumed using fresh plant parts, dried leaves, or tea bags. You can find the plants and dried teas at your local health food store. The plant has long been used as a natural remedy for everything from pain and discomfort to traditional textiles. Today, this herbal tea poses a new frontier in flavor and aroma. Pour yourself a cup of nettle tea and discover a world of flavor.