With their heart-shaped leaves and prickly reputation, stinging nettles (Utica dioica) have a long history as a medicinal plant. Nettle root has recently become a popular herbal supplement. Commonly available forms include pastes or creams that can be applied topically, and capsules or extracts that can be taken internally. However, these preparations can be confusing; some are sold only as "nettle root" and others as "nettle root extract."
Uses of Nettle Root
Recent research supports the use of nettle root in treating the symptoms of enlarged prostate in men. Specifically, nettle root alleviates urinary problems and slows the growth of prostate cells. According to research, nettle root may be most effective in combination with saw palmetto or pygeum; nettle root products may also contain these herbs. Some people also use nettle root to treat hair loss or as a bodybuilding supplement, though research does not definitively support these uses.
Preparations sold simply as "nettle root" most commonly contain nettle root that has been dried or freeze-dried, then powdered. This form of the herb is not concentrated. You can obtain and work with nettle root yourself, either by identifying and digging up the plant, or by purchasing freeze-dried nettle root online. It is most commonly available as a bulk powder or in capsule form.
Liquid Nettle Root Extract
A more concentrated form of nettle root is liquid nettle root extract, also known as nettle root tincture. A liquid extract means the plant has been soaked in a solvent, usually alcohol, to extract its medicinal components. The plant material is removed and the liquid is bottled. Extracts are more potent than the raw form of the herb. Liquid nettle root extracts may or may not be combined with other herbs.
Powdered Nettle Root Extract
Another form of nettle root extract is sold as a powder or in capsules. Powdered extract has been made into a tea or other liquid formulation, then dried. A powdered extract is not the same as a powdered herb, because it is much more concentrated. When buying nettle root in capsule form, examine the label to see whether you are buying an extract or simply the powdered herb. Look on the bottle to determine the potency. If the product is described as "standardised extract," it is an extract.
Liquid versus Powdered Extracts
Liquid extracts have the advantage of being very concentrated and quickly absorbed into the body. However, most liquid extracts are alcohol-based. You can make your own liquid extracts using raw nettle root and vodka or brandy. It is also possible to make non-alcoholic extracts using glycerine or vinegar. Powdered extracts may not be as concentrated and are more slowly absorbed. However, they are also effective and do not contain alcohol.