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Stinging nettle
Urtica dioica subsp. dioica
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Rosales
Family: Urticaceae
Genus: Urtica
Species: U. dioica
Binomial name
Urtica dioica
L.

Stinging nettle or common nettle, Urtica dioica, is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America, and is the best-known member of the nettle genus Urtica.

Contents

Description

Stinging nettle is a dioecious herbaceous perennial, 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow as are the roots. The soft green leaves are 3 to 15 cm (1 to 6 in) long and are borne oppositely on an erect wiry green stem. The leaves have a strongly serrated margin, a cordate base and an acuminate tip with a terminal leaf tooth longer than adjacent laterals. It bears small greenish or brownish 4-merous flowers in dense axillary inflorescences. The leaves and stems are very hairy with non-stinging hairs and also bear many stinging hairs (trichomes), whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that will inject several chemicals: acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT or serotonin, and possibly formic acid. This mixture of chemical compounds cause a sting or paresthesia from which the species derives its common name, as well as the colloquial names burn nettle, burn weed, burn hazel. The pain and itching from a nettle sting can last from only a few minutes to as long as a week.[citation needed]

Distribution

D. urticaria: close-up of the defensive hairs

Stinging nettles are abundant in northern Europe and much of Asia, usually found in the countryside. It is less gregarious in southern Europe and north Africa, where it is restricted by its need for moist soil. In North America it is widely distributed in Canada and the United States, where it is found in every province and state except for Hawaii and also can be found in northernmost Mexico. It grows in abundance in the Pacific Northwest, especially in places like Vashon Island (Tristin) where annual rainfall is high. In North America the stinging nettle is far less common than in northern Europe. The European subspecies has been introduced into North America as well as South America.

In the UK stinging nettles have a strong association with human habitation and buildings. The presence of nettles may indicate that a building has been long abandoned. Human and animal waste may be responsible for elevated levels of phosphate and nitrogen in the soil, providing an ideal environment for stinging nettles. This seems particularly evident in Scotland where the sites of crofts razed during the Highland Clearances can still be identified.[citation needed]

Ecology

Nettles are the exclusive larval food plant for several species of butterfly, such as the Peacock Butterfly[1] or the Small Tortoiseshell, and are also eaten by the larvae of some moths including Angle Shades, Buff Ermine, Dot Moth, The Flame, The Gothic, Grey Chi, Grey Pug, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Mouse Moth, Setaceous Hebrew Character and Small Angle Shades. The roots are sometimes eaten by the larva of the Ghost Moth Hepialus humuli.

Medicinal uses

Detail of flowering stinging nettle.
Detail of immature fruits of stinging nettle.

As Old English Stiðe, nettle is one of the nine plants invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. Nettle is believed to be a galactagogue[2] and a clinical trial has shown that the juice is diuretic in patients with congestive heart failure[citation needed].

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, providing temporary relief from pain. The counter-irritant action to which this is often attributed can be preserved by the preparation of an alcoholic tincture which can be applied as part of a topical preparation, but not as an infusion, which drastically reduces the irritant action.

Extracts can be used to treat arthritis, anemia, hay fever, kidney problems, and pain.

Nettle leaf is a herb that has a long tradition of use as an adjuvant remedy in the treatment of arthritis in Germany. Nettle leaf extract contains active compounds that reduce TNF-α and other inflammatory cytokines.[3][4] It has been demonstrated that nettle leaf lowers TNF-α levels by potently inhibiting the genetic transcription factor that activates TNF-α and IL-1B in the synovial tissue that lines the joint.[5]

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.[6] It is also thought nettles can ease eczema.

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.[7]

Because 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[8]

Fresh nettle is used in folk remedies to stop bleeding because of its high Vitamin K content. Meanwhile, in dry U. dioica, the Vitamin K is practically non-existent and so is used as a blood thinner.

An extract from the nettle root (Urtica dioica) is used to alleviate symptoms of benign prostate enlargement. Nettle leaf extract, on the other hand, is what has been shown to reduce the pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF-α and IL-B1.

Food

A young red-tinted variety of American stinging nettle.

Stinging Nettle has a flavour similar to spinach when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Young plants were harvested by Native Americans and used as a cooked plant in spring when other food plants were scarce.[9] Soaking nettles in water or cooking will remove the stinging chemicals from the plant, which allows them to be handled and eaten without incidence of stinging. After Stinging Nettle enters its flowering and seed setting stages the leaves develop gritty particles called "cystoliths", which can irritate the urinary tract. [9] Stinging nettle contains 40% protein, which is high for a leafy green vegetable.[10][11][12][citation needed] The young leaves are edible and make a very good pot-herb. The leaves are also dried and may then be used to make a tisane, as can also be done with the nettle's flowers.

Nettles can be used in a variety of recipes, such as polenta and pesto. Nettle soup is a common use of the plant, particularly in Northern and Eastern Europe.

Nettles are sometimes used in cheese making, for example in the production of Yarg[13] and as a flavouring in varieties of Gouda[14]

In the UK, an annual Stinging Nettle Eating Championship draws thousands of people to Dorset, where competitors attempt to eat as much of the raw plant as possible. Competitors are given 60 cm (20 in) stalks of the plant, from which they strip the leaves and eat them. Whoever strips and eats the most stinging nettle leaves in a fixed time is the winner. The competition dates back to 1986, when two neighbouring farmers attempted to settle a dispute about who was responsible for controlling the weed. [15]

In Nepal and in Kumaon region of Northern India, Stinging Nettle is known as Shishnu. It's a very popular cuisine and cooked with Indian spices

Drink

Nettle cordial is a soft drink made largely from a refined sugar and water solution flavoured with the leaves of the nettle.[citation needed] Historically it has been popular in North Western Europe; however, versions of a nettle cordial recipe can be traced back to Roman times.[citation needed] It is an aromatic syrup, and when mixed with sparkling water, is very refreshing.

Nettle leaves are steeped in a concentrated sugar solution so the flavour is extracted into the sugar solution. The leaves are then removed and a source of citric acid (usually lemon juice) is added to help preserve the cordial and add a tart flavour.

Commercially produced cordials are generally quite concentrated and are usually diluted by one part cordial to ten parts water – thus a 0.5 litres (0.11 imp gal; 0.13 US gal) bottle of cordial would be enough for 5.5 litres (1.2 imp gal; 1.5 US gal) diluted. The high concentration of sugar in nettle cordial gives it a long shelf life.

Nettle sting treatment

Anti-itch drugs, usually in the form of creams containing antihistaminics or hydrocortisone, can provide relief from the symptoms of being stung by nettles. Many folk remedies exist for treating the itching including horsetail (Equisetopsida spp.), leaf of dock (Rumex spp.), Jewelweed, (Impatiens capensis and Impatiens pallida), mud, saliva, or baking soda, oil and onions – some of which may be mainly placebo in effect.

Influence on language and culture

Urtica dioica from Thomé, Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885.

In Great Britain the stinging nettle is the only common stinging plant and has found a place in several figures of speech in the English language. To "nettle" someone is to annoy them. Shakespeare's Hotspur urges that "out of this nettle, danger, we grasp this flower, safety" (Henry IV, part 1, Act II Scene 3). The common figure of speech "to grasp the nettle" probably originated as a condensation of this quotation. It means to face up to or take on a problem that has been ignored or deferred. The metaphor may refer to the fact that if a nettle plant is grasped firmly rather than brushed against, it does not sting so readily, because the hairs are crushed down flat and do not penetrate the skin so easily.[citation needed] In the German language, the idiom "sich in die Nesseln setzen", or to sit in nettles, means to get into trouble.

Textiles

Nettle stems contain a bast fibre that has been traditionally used for the same purposes as linen and is produced by a similar retting process. Unlike cotton, nettles grow easily without pesticides. The fibres are coarser however.[16]

In recent years a German company has started to produce commercial nettle textiles. [17]

Nettles may be used as a dye-stuff, producing yellow from the roots, or yellowish green from the leaves.[18]

Gardening

As well as the potential for encouraging beneficial insects, nettles have a number of other uses in the vegetable garden.

The growth of stinging nettle is an indicator that an area has high fertility (especially phosphorus) and has been disturbed.[19][20]

Nettles contain a lot of nitrogen and so are used as a compost activator[21] or can be used to make a liquid fertiliser which although somewhat low in phosphate is useful in supplying magnesium, sulphur and iron.[22][23]

Recent experiments have shown that nettles may have some use as a companion plant.[24]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Heiko Bellmann: Der Neue Kosmos Schmetterlingsführer, Schmetterlinge, Raupen und Futterpflanzen, pg. 170, Frankh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-440-09330-1
  2. ^ Westfall R.E., Galactagogue herbs: a qualitative study and review. Canadian Journal of Midwifery Research and Practice. 2(2):22–27. (2003)
  3. ^ Teucher T, et al. Cytokine secretion in whole blood of healthy subjects following oral administration of Urtica dioica L. plant extract. Arzneimittelforschung 1996 Sep;46(9):906–10.
  4. ^ Obertreis B, et al. Ex-vivo in-vitro inhibition of lipopolysaccharide stimulated tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1 beta secretion in human whole blood by extractum urticae dioicae foliorum. Arzneimittelforschung 1996 Apr;46(4):389–94. Published erratum appears in Arzneimittelforschung 1996 Sep;46(9):936.
  5. ^ Riehemann K, et al. Plant extracts from stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), an antirheumatic remedy, inhibit the proinflammatory transcription factor NF-kappaB. FEBS Lett 1999 Jan 8;442(1):89–94.
  6. ^ Balch, Phyllis A., CNC, Balch, James F., M.D., Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Avery Press, p. 104 (2000) (ISBN 1-58333-077-1)
  7. ^ 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 June 1
  8. ^ Schöttner M, Gansser D, Spiteller G. Interaction of lignans with human sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). " Z Naturforsch [C]". 1997 Nov–Dec;52(11–12):834–43.
  9. ^ a b Gregory L. Tilford, Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, ISBN 0-87842-359-1
  10. ^ http://www.portlandtribune.com/features/story.php?story_id=117459261903927000
  11. ^ http://danazia.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/taking-a-bite-out-of-stinging-nettles/
  12. ^ http://www.awarenessmag.com/janfeb6/jf6_interview_susun_weed.html
  13. ^ http://www.lynherdairies.co.uk/nettles-and-garlic.html
  14. ^ http://www.recipetips.com/glossary-term/t--38676/gouda-cheese-with-stinging-nettles.asp
  15. ^ http://www.meeja.com.au/articles/people-eat-stinging-nettles-while-people-watch-people-eat-stingin
  16. ^ BBC NEWS | UK | England | Leicestershire | Student shows off nettle knickers
  17. ^ Nettleworld
  18. ^ Piers Warren, 101 uses for Stinging Nettles (2006), p 65, ISBN 095418999X. Google Books
  19. ^ http://www.garden-helper.com/Learn/Charts_And_Tables/indicator-weeds-soil-conditions.asp
  20. ^ http://www.herbalpractitioner.com/virtual-herb-walk.html
  21. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A1310950
  22. ^ Pears, Pauline, et al. HDRA Encyclopedia Of Organic Gardening, pp207, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 2005.
  23. ^ http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/organics/compostmulch/composttea/OtherTeas.htm
  24. ^ http://www.gardenwiseonline.ca/gw/plants/2009/05/08/stinging-nettle-history-and-uses

References

  • Elliott, C. (1997). Rash Encounters. Horticulture 94: 30.
  • Schofield, Janice J. (1998). Nettles ISBN 0-585-10500-6
  • Thiselton-Dyer, T. F., (1889). The Folk-Lore of Plants.
  • Glawe, G. A. (2006). Sex ratio variation and sex determination in Urtica diocia. ISBN 90-6464-026-2

External links








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