The Origin of Stinging Nettles

Written by marjorie gilbert
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The Origin of Stinging Nettles
Stinging nettle has a long history with the human race. (stinging nettles image by Edsweb from

Stinging nettle, or urtica dioica, has spines or hairs on both the stems and leaves that contain chemicals that irritate the skin when you touch it. It originated in Northern Asia and Europe. Now it grows around the world, preferring soil rich in nitrogen, and grows up to 4 feet high.


Nettle fabrics from 3000 to 2000 B.C have been found in Denmark. These fabrics were burial shrouds. Native Americans as well as European used nettles to make fabric to create sacking, sail cloth, fishing nets and cordage. The Germans used nettle fibres to make their clothing and army uniforms.


Stinging nettles contain more chlorophyll than other plants, which made the plants a prime source for green dye. It has been used for dyes for centuries, starting in the Bronze Age or 3000 to 2000 B.C.. The British government used the plant to create dye for camouflage for their clothing during World War II.


Ancient Egyptians used to prescribe floggings of fresh nettles to treat ailments such as lethargy, coma, chronic rheumatism and cholera. The flogging was called urtification. When the Romans went to war, they brought supplies of stinging nettles with them. American and Canadian native tribes as well as Ecuador Indians used this practice as well.


The ancient Egyptians used infusions of nettles as a relief from the pain of arthritis and lumbago. Hippocrates, who lived from 460 to 377 B.C., made 61 remedies from nettle. Galen, in 1 B.C. Greece, prescribed nettles as a diuretic and for dog bites, gangrenous wounds, asthma and illness of the spleen. In 400 A.D., Apuleius Platonicus prescribed nettles for what he called a cold injury and a combination of nettle and cannabis for shock. From the 4th to the 9th centuries, nettles were used to treat shingles, sinus problems and constipation. John Gerard use the stinging nettle to fight the effects of poison in the 16th century. Nicholas Culpepper prescribed nettles in the 17th century to treat infections of the mouth and throat, skin infections, sciatica and joint pain in his famous publication, "Culpepper's Complete Herbal." In the 19th century, Dr O. Phleps Brown used nettles to create tonics and diuretics and included it in his famous publication, "The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By the Use of Nature's Remedies."


Stinging nettles supposedly contain vitamins, which may be why the poor of England treasured the plants. The Romans ate nettles and used them to tenderise their meat. Nettles are an ingredient in beer, soup and tea. Nettles have been used to treat scurvy since they're high in vitamin C as well as magnesium.

Milk Production and Labor

Nettles have been given to both nursing mothers and cows to stimulate milk production, according to Dr Christopher's Herbal Legacy website. Pregnant women chewed on stinging nettles to induce labour. However, no reputable medical sources have verified the efficacy of these uses.

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