Supplements & Herbs

Stinging nettle medicinal effects

Urtica dioica, Urtica urens, Urtica pilulifera, Urtica membranacea: scientific research studies show wide-ranging therapeutic potential

Part 1

by copyright © 2014 Healing Cancer Naturally

The following summaries of some research studies into the curative activities and nutritional quality of stinging nettles is based upon a search of the PubMed database (maintained by the US National Library of Medicine) which publishes only scientifically validated research. Currently (July 2015) there are about 430 results obtained for the search terms Urtica dioica and Urtica urens - the humble Great nettle and Dwarf nettle, respectively, and c. 540 for the term Urtica by itself.

This compilation is meant to show that it isn't just superstition or simple-minded folklore of underdeveloped peoples - or naive Western herbalists of little education - that ascribe powerful health and healing effects to nettles, but that there are actually numerous "scientifically validated" reasons for the positive effects of these herbs upon a great variety of illnesses as diverse as allergies, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and male health, which previously had been "anecdotally" observed for centuries.

While wild herbs continue to play an important part in the diet and traditional herbal medicine of indigenous peoples of the world, those populations who have largely abandoned their use in favour of cultivated foods may do well to rediscover them, particularly such ubiquitous and easily recognizable while clearly powerfully healing plants as the stinging nettle.

General: nutritional quality, mineral and trace elements, toxicants, phytochemical diversity & safety of Urtica (stinging nettles)

  • A comprehensive review on the stinging nettle effect and efficacy profiles, Part II: Urticae radix
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/17509841
  • Polyphenolic and biological activities of leaves extracts of Argemone subfusiformis (Papaveraceae) and Urtica urens (Urticaceae).
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/21247003

    This South African study (published in Revista de biología tropical in 2010) mentions epidemiological studies having shown the effectiveness of popular wild plant species against major diseases and the many nutritional assets of these foods including proteins, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and even essential fatty acids. To shed light on the nutritional and medicinal potential of the plants A. subfusiformis and U. urens, their leaves were analyzed to determine macro and microelements, antibacterial activitiy, and polyphenol content. The radical scavenging activity of both plants was found to be comparable to that of ascorbic acid (!), and their nutritional value (incl. minerals and phytochemicals) compared with RDA values was found to be "appreciable", which together with their low levels of toxins justifies their use for medicinal purposes "to some extent".
  • Nutritional quality of some wild leafy vegetables in South Africa.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/19037794

    This study (published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2009) analysed the nutrititional value, polyphenolic and anti-nutritive components of the leaves of four wild edible plants incl. Urtica urens. U. urens was found to have the highest amounts of bioavailable calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc at levels comparable with or actually higher than those found in everyday vegetables (lettuce, spinach, cabbage etc.). What is more, the four wild vegetables tested exhibited comparatively lower concentrations of anti-nutritional compounds such as phytates, saponins and alkaloids, all of which makes these plants potentially important dietary additions.
  • Safety evaluation of some wild plants in the New Nordic Diet.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/23009884

    This study looked into four commonly encountered wild plants (stinging nettle, sorrel, chickweed and common lambsquarters), and found that most of their bioactive compounds were within the range of known food plants. (published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2012)
  • Distribution, synthesis, and absorption of kynurenic acid in plants.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/21157681

    Kynurenic acid displays pharmacological properties and is found in high concentrations in medicinal herbs such as dandelion, nettle and greater celandine (printed in Planta Medica, 2011).
  • Content of toxic and essential metals in medicinal herbs growing in polluted and unpolluted areas of Macedonia.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/20860970

    This study compared the levels of barium, chromium, cadmium, iron, strontium, lead and zinc found in nettles, dandelion and camomile collected in contaminated and uncontaminated areas. Results confirmed the common-sense notion that medicinal plants (as well as those used as food) should only be picked in unpolluted areas.
  • Phytochemical, phylogenetic, and anti-inflammatory evaluation of 43 Urtica accessions (stinging nettle) based on UPLC-Q-TOF-MS metabolomic profiles.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/24169378

    This study evaluated the considerable phytochemical diversity of the genus Urtica by analyzing 63 leaf samples of diverse geographical, taxonomical[1] and morphological origin. (Phytochemistry, 2013)
  • Multi-element analysis of mineral and trace elements in medicinal herbs and their infusions.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/22868119

    This study looked at the presence of twelve minerals and trace elements in herbs used for medicinal purposes incl. Urtica dioica as well as at the bioavailability of these elements when the herbs are prepared as tea. All the herbs were found to contain most of the elements - if in widely varying concentrations and bioavailability when consumed as a tea. The poorly extractable (under 20%) elements included aluminium, iron, manganese, and calcium. (published in Food Chemistry, 2012)
  • Herbal infusions as a source of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and copper in human nutrition.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/21916535

    Similar to the above, this analysis found variation in elemental contents in herbs collected from different areas, as well as iron being poorly extractable. (International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2012)
  • Water-extractable magnesium, manganese and copper in leaves and herbs of medicinal plants.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/22574504

    (Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica, 2012)

Urtica (stinging nettles): antioxidant, antimicrobial / antibiotic effects

  • Antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiulcer and analgesic activities of nettle (Urtica dioica L.)
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/15013182

    This study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (2004) compared the nettle's various antioxidant activities to standard antioxidants such as BHA, BHT, quercetin, and alpha-tocopherol. It was found that an aqueous extract of Urtica dioica had powerful antioxidant activity, much higher for instance than alpha-tocopherol. The extract also demonstrated antimicrobial and antiulcer as well as painkilling activity.
  • In vitro antimicrobial activity of Romanian medicinal plants hydroalcoholic extracts on planktonic and adhered cells.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/21717806

    This study published in the Roumanian Archives of Microbiology & Immunology (2011) evaluated the antibacterial and antifungal potential of arnica, wormwood and nettle extracts against a number of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria and two fungal strains. The study findings indicated that these plant extracts constitute a significant natural alternative to antibiotics.
  • Biological screening of some Turkish medicinal plant extracts for antimicrobial and toxicity activities.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/18075897

    This study published in Natural Product Research (2008) tested water extracts of seventeen Turkish plants against six bacterial strains. Urtica dioica leaves were found to be among the four plant extracts with the highest inhibitory activity against S. pyogenes, S. aureus and S. epidermidis.
  • Evaluation of antioxidant properties, elemental and phenolic contents composition of wild nettle (Urtica dioica L.) from Tunceli in Turkey
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/24199953

    Published in Cellular and Molecular Biology (Noisy-le-Grand) in 2013, this study concluded that Urtica dioica could be considered a viable natural "alternative" in the sectors of nutrition, pharmacology and medicine.
  • Evaluation of in-vitro Antioxidant Properties of Hydroalcoholic Solution Extracts Urtica dioica L., Malva neglecta Wallr. and Their Mixture.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/24250519

    This study (Irananian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, 2012) evaluated the various antioxidant activities of extracts of the flower, root, seed and leaf of Urtica dioica L. and Malva neglecta Wallr. and their mixture in comparison to standard antioxidants such as BHA, BHT and a-tocopherol. It was found that the extracts of both plants exhibited strong total antioxidant activity. (free full text available)
  • In vitro antioxidant activity of non-cultivated vegetables of ethnic Albanians in southern Italy.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/12203269

    Published in Phytotherapy Research (2002), this study showed extracts from leaves of Urtica dioica exhibiting remarkable inhibitory activity in the lipid peroxidation assay.
  • Traditional foods for health: screening of the antioxidant capacity and phenolic content of selected Black Sea area local foods
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/23929456

    Published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (2013), this study determined the total antioxidant capacity and phenolic content of traditional foods. Among 39 foods tested, nettle soup scored the second highest total antioxidant capacity (after blueberries and before sunflower seeds). Considering that the scientific study listed in the following found that the antioxidant activity of nettles decreases by heating, the total antioxidant capacity of nettles appears to be even more outstanding.
  • Effect of cooking methods on antioxidant activity and nitrate content of selected wild Mediterranean plants
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/23701122

    The Mediterranean diet is frequently recommended as one of the most health-promoting nutrition regimes one can adopt. Interestingly it also "prescribes" the consumption of wild edible plants, a rich source of natural antioxidants. The present study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition (2013) looked into the effects of boiling, steaming and microwave cooking on the total antioxidant activity and nitrate content of several wild edible plants. It was found that boiling caused the highest losses of total antioxidant activity (determined on a dry weight basis) - up to 100% in Urtica dioica, while in some plants, steaming actually produced high increases of total antioxidant activity on a dry weight basis.
  • High-antibacterial activity of Urtica spp. seed extracts on food and plant pathogenic bacteria.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/23067263

    This study (International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2013) compared the antimicrobial activities of leaf, root and seed extracts of two types of nettles (Urtica dioica L. and Urtica pilulifera L.) against pathogens attacking foods and plants, respectively. Results suggested that the antibacterial activities of certain nettle extracts would have importance in agriculture.
  • Phenolic compounds analysis of root, stalk, and leaves of nettle.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/22593694

    In Turkey, nettles (Urtica dioica) are widely used in "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) including in cancer treatment. While Urtica dioica is an ethnobotanically and medicinally important plant the world over, in Turkey a whopping 90 % of herbal CAM applications depend on it. Since it is thought that nettle owes its positive effects to its phenolic content, this study (published in ScientificWorldJournal in 2012) analyzed the phenolic profile, total phenolic content and antioxidant activities of nettle samples taken from various regions of Turkey. Differences in phenolic composition and antioxidant activity were found both between nettles coming from different areas and between the parts of the plant itself (root, stalk, and leaves). Phenolic content was also higher in fresh plants. It was concluded that fresh nettle consumption could be the healthiest option. (full text available at www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2012/564367/)
  • The effect of hydro alcoholic nettle (Urtica dioica) extract on oxidative stress in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized double-blind clinical trial.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/22545363

    This study published in the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences (2012) demonstrated a significant increase in total antioxidant capacity and superoxidant dismutase in the treatment group compared to the control group after eight weeks of treatment.
  • Screening antimicrobial activity of various extracts of Urtica dioica.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/23342511

    This study investigated the antibacterial and antifungal activities of nine crude stinging nettle extracts against 28 bacteria, seven fungal isolates and three yeast strains. Roughly half of the extracts inhibited Gram-negative bacteria while nearly two thirds of the extracts also inhibited Gram-positive bacteria. These positive findings make these extracts potential antimicrobial agents for both pharmaceutical and nutritional purposes. (published in Revista de biología tropical, 2012)
  • An evaluation of the inhibitory effects against rotavirus infection of edible plant extracts.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/22834653

    Among 150 plant extracts tested in vitro against rhesus rotavirus, aqueous extracts of six plants incl. Urtica dioica root showed significant antiviral activity. Four of these in combination - incl. Urtica dioica - additionally showed synergy in their antiviral effect. These study findings indicate that extracts of these plants might be combined in the oral treatment of rotavirus-caused diarrhea. (Virology Journal, 2012, free full article available)
  • Anti-mycobacterial screening of five Indian medicinal plants and partial purification of active extracts of Cassia sophera and Urtica dioica.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/23608375

    Of five tested plant extracts, U. dioica and C. sophera exhibited promising anti-mycobacterial activity against a multi-drug resistant (MDR) strain of M. tuberculosis, the mycobacterium involved in the causation of tuberculosis. Considering that multiple drug resistance constitutes one of the banes of modern medicine, this is huge. (published in Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, 2013)

Urtica (stinging nettles): immune-enhancing effects

  • Stimulation of lymphocyte proliferation and inhibition of nitric oxide production by aqueous Urtica dioica extract.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/16041733

    This in-vitro study published in Phytotherapy Research (2005) among other results found that nettle extract stimulated T-lymphocyte proliferation.

Urtica (stinging nettles): antitumor and cancer-related activity

  • Evaluating medicinal plants for anticancer activity
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/25478599

    This study out of Israel examined the effects of three herbs with a history of folkloric medicinal use incl. Urtica membranacea[2] on human-derived tumor cell lines and cultures grown from biopsies. Whole plant extracts made from each of the three herbs all showed the dose- and time-dependent specific ability to induce apoptosis in tumor cells while leaving healthy human cell cultures unaffected. The Urtica membranacea extract was found to have particularly strong anticancer activity. The study authors suggest that the tested herbal extracts are promising anticancer agents. (published in TheScientificWorldJournal, 2014)
    This study can be read in full at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4248331/.

    Compare Urtica membranacea cancer cure: German physician successfully used stinging nettles for healing benign and malignant tumors.
  • In vitro antioxidant and antitumor activities of six selected plants used in the Traditional Arabic Palestinian herbal medicine
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/24863277

    The plants.evaluated in this study (published in Pharmaceutical Biology in 2014) included Urtica pilulifera L. which showed the highest content in total phenolics and the second highest in total flavonoids. Additionally, Urtica pilulifera demonstrated maximum cytotoxic activity. The study authors suggest that the therapeutic benefit of the plants tested can at least partially be ascribed to their inhibition of oxidative processes.
  • Antioxidant and apoptotic effects of an aqueous extract of Urtica dioica on the MCF-7 human breast cancer cell line
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/24175819

    This in-vitro study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention (2013) aimed to evaluate the anti-proliferative activity of Urtica dioica leaf extract and concluded that "findings warrant further research on Urtica dioica as a potential chemotherapeutic agent for breast cancer". (free full text available)
  • Ameliorative influence of Urtica dioica L against cisplatin-induced toxicity in mice bearing Ehrlich ascites carcinoma.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/21939360

    This animal study[3] published in Drug and Chemical Toxicology (2012) found evidence for protective and antioxidant activity of Urtica dioica extract in mice.
  • Effect of complementary and alternative medicine during radiotherapy on radiation toxicity.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/18197431

    Another study out of Turkey, published in Supportive Care in Cancer : Official Journal of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer (2008). As mentioned above, stinging nettle is the most commonly chosen "CAM" in Turkey. This study found that the use of complementary and alternative medicine (including any other approaches, although largely stinging nettles) during radiation treatment decreased lower gastrointestinal and genitourinary toxicities while increasing laryngeal toxicity.
  • Elevation protective role of Camellia sinensis and Urtica dioica infusion against trichloroacetic acid-exposed in rats.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/17622976

    This animal study[3] published in Phytotherapy Research (2007) found that both plants imparted significant protection against oxidative injury induced by a carcinogenic chemical that may result in the development of cancer. Results additionally suggested that both plants "may possess preventive potential during a 50-day protective exposure".
  • Antiproliferative effect on human prostate cancer cells by a stinging nettle root (Urtica dioica) extract.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/10705733

    This study published in Planta Medica (2000) observed an antagonistic effect of stinging nettle roots extract on the proliferative activity of human prostatic cells both in vivo (animal model[3]) and in vitro.
  • Aqueous extract of Urtica dioica makes significant inhibition on adenosine deaminase activity in prostate tissue from patients with prostate cancer.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/15254411

    For this study, published in Cancer Biology & Therapy (2004), prostate tissues were incubated with different amounts of Urtica dioica leaves extract, and adenosine deaminase activity was measured in both treated and untreated samples. The authors suggest that the significant inhibition observed in the treated samples "might be one of the mechanisms in the observed beneficial effect of Urtica dioica in prostate cancer". (free full text available)

    More cancer-related nettle studies under Urtica: immune-enhancing effects and Urtica: antioxidant, antimicrobial / antibiotic effects.

Urtica (stinging nettles): diabetes and its various complications

  • Improved glycemic control in patients with advanced type 2 diabetes mellitus taking Urtica dioica leaf extract: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/24273930

    Conventional diabetes drugs have severe side effects and typically limited efficacy while nettle leaves among other characteristics have insulin secretagogue (stimulating insulin secretion) effects and a long history of use in traditional medicine as an anti-hyperglycemic agent. This study evaluated the effects of nettle leaf extract combined with conventional oral anti-hyperglycemic drugs on fasting and postprandial glucose levels and other critical parameters in 46 patients. Nettle leaf extract lowered the glucose levels safely and significantly both during fasting and after a meal. (published in Clinical Laboratory, 2013)
  • Evaluation of alpha-amylase inhibition by Urtica dioica and Juglans regia extracts.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/25140210

    One approach for the treatment of diabetes relies on the inhibition of pancreatic a-amylase. For this study, nettle and walnut extracts were tested. Both showed time- and concentration-dependent inhibition of a-amylase. (published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, 2014)
  • Iranian medicinal plants for diabetes mellitus: a systematic review.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/24498803

    Published in the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences in 2013, this review of randomized controlled trials assessed the anti-diabetic (glucose-lowering) activity of 62 plants. Urtica dioica was among the six plants found to exert the best glycemic control.
  • Insulin mimetics in Urtica dioica: structural and computational analyses of Urtica dioica extracts.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/20013820

    Since "Urtica Dioica is a plant shown to reduce blood glucose levels upon oral ingestion", this study aimed to identify nettle's active component and mechanism of action - which were discovered in glucose-conducting pores. (published in Phytotherapy Research, 2010)
  • Effect of Urtica dioica on memory dysfunction and hypoalgesia in an experimental model of diabetic neuropathy.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/23916662

    Published in Neuroscience Letters in 2013, this animal study[3] found that nettle extract significantly reduced blood glucose and excessive thirst while improving body weight, insulin level, and cognition, demonstrating results comparable to rosiglitazone in reversing diabetes-induced complications such as neuronal dysfunction.
  • The effect of hydro alcoholic Nettle (Urtica dioica) extracts on insulin sensitivity and some inflammatory indicators in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized double-blind control trial.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/22303583

    Published in the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences (2011), this study examined the effect of oral nettle extract (taken three times a day) in 50 type 2 diabetic patients. After eight weeks of nettle treatment, Interleukin 6 and High Sensitive C-Reactive protein were significantly decreased in the treatment group versus the control group.
  • Maintaining a physiological blood glucose level with 'glucolevel', a combination of four anti-diabetes plants used in the traditional arab herbal medicine.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/18955212

    Published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2008, this study evaluated the effects of a herbal product made of walnut, nettle, olive and Sea orache in vivo and in vitro. No side or toxic effects were noted while clinically acceptable glucose levels were reached within several weeks. (free full text available)
  • New phytotherapical opportunity in the prevention and treatment of 2-type of diabetes mellitus
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/17575800

    Published in Acta Pharmaceutica Hungarica in 2006, the Hungarian authors of this study report their preclinical and clinical test results obtained with the administration of a herbal mixture consisting of dill, nettle and gingko which significantly reduced blood sugar levels in type II diabetics.
  • Urtica dioica extract attenuates depressive like behavior and associative memory dysfunction in dexamethasone induced diabetic mice.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/24435938

    Published in Metabolic Brain Disase in 2014, this animal study[3] out of India (where U. dioica has traditionally been used for diabetes and cognitive impairment) investigated the effect of the hydroalcoholic extract of nettle leaves on diabetes in mice and some of its attendant complications. Nettle extract significantly reduced the symptoms following dexamethasone administration (hyperglycemia, oxidative stress and depression-like behavior) while improving memory and serum insulin.

Continue to Stinging nettle medicinal effects Part 2: on Urtica's cardiovascular effects, effects on prostate and male health, anti-inflammatory effects (arthritis and rheumatism), effects on brain, memory, and allergies, effects on Aids / HIV, and nettle sting against pain.

Footnotes

1 Taxonomy is a science involving the classification of organisms such as plants, animals, fungi etc.

2 It can be assumed that Urtica membranacea was chosen since it grows in the entire Mediterranean region (from Portugal to Israel) as well as on the Canary Islands (except Lanzarote), Madeira and the Azores. It is also found along the Portuguese and Spanish Atlantic coast all the way up to Brittany, and some Urtica membranacea grow in Belgium and on the British Isles (especially in London).

3 Both for ethical and scientific reasons, Healing Cancer Naturally does not support animal experimentation. For details see Cancer Research, Toxicity Testing & Animal Experimentation: an Unholy Union?.

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