What is Nettle Leaf Tea Good For?
Almost everyone is familiar with the nettle, most likely through its formidable sting! In truth, most of us have been there; experiencing the searing, burning pain of coming into contact with this seemingly ruthless perennial flowering plant.
It is no secret that the stinging nettle has had a lot of bad publicity but is it all founded? Here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, we can confidently tell you that no, it isn’t! There is so much more to the nettle, perhaps most importantly, its use in a delicious herbal tea.
How ironic, it would appear, that when consumed in brew-form, the stinging nettle is one of the most beneficial herbs in existence; the very same plant that can make you itch for hours and hours can also improve kidney function, stimulate the immune system and amazingly, even treat allergic reactions.
"Yes, you read that correctly Nettle Leaf Tea really is somewhat special"
When boiled in water, the stinging nettle quite literally loses its sting. All that is then left is a truly nutritious and wholesome ingredient best served in "you guessed it tea". So what makes Nettle Leaf Tea so special? And why, after countless centuries of consumption, have we only just begun to fully understand its true potential? The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company have the answers!
What is Nettle Leaf Tea?
It is important to note that Stinging Nettle Tea isn’t technically a ‘tea’ at all! This is because it does not contain any leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant (or ‘tea’ plant) and as a result, it should, by rights, be known as a ‘herbal tea’.
Alas, for hundreds; even thousands of years, this beverage has been enjoyed as an honorary tea, and has long been nurtured by the global tea industry. Through with our caring hands you needn’t worry about stinging yourself when brewing up our nettle tea.
Though cursed by hikers, gardeners, and (especially) children alike, the Urtica dioica plant has, despite some of its slightly less-desired qualities, rightfully earned its place in the world. It belongs to the Urticaceae family and was originally native to the Northern Hemisphere, although it has since spread throughout most the world barring Arctic, Antarctic, and some African regions.
In America, it can grow in every state except Hawaii. Within the Urticaceae family, there are three main genera. Of the Urtica genus, there are an estimated 80 species. In the British Isles alone, there are three known species of the nettle plant. These are Urtica dioica (Common Nettle), Urtica urens (Dwarf Nettle), and Urtica pilulifera (Roman Nettle). However, it is the Common Nettle that is used in our Nettle Leaf tea.
The name ‘nettle’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Noedl’, which can be broadly translated to mean ‘needle’. This is likely due to the pain of its sting. The name ‘Urtica dioica’, on the other hand, is twofold. ‘Urtica’ derives from the Latin words for ‘sting’ or sometimes ‘burn’ (what a surprise), while ‘dioica’ means ‘two houses’. The term ‘two houses’ refers to the unusual way in which male and female flowers of the nettle usually grow on separate plants, respectively.
These flowers bloom between July and September, while the plant itself consists of a hairy, single stalk with deeply serrated leaves of dark green on top and of pale green on the underside. The plant can grow to heights of up to 1.2 metres (4 feet). The leaves, meanwhile, average at 15 centimetres (approx 6 inches). Underground, the nettle plant has a yellow Rhizome which can be found very near to the surface of the soil.
Why Do You Get Stung by the Stinging Nettle?
Evolution has seen this plant develop hollow hair stiffened by silica with a swollen base that contains the chemicals Histamine. This irritates the skin, Acetylcholine, which causes a burning sensation, and Serotonin, which essentially enables the two chemicals to react.
The tip of these venom-filled hairs are very brittle and when brushed against, no matter how lightly, will almost certainly break off exposing a sharp point that penetrates the skin. This ensures that the nettle plant has suitable protection against grazing animals and yes, even humans.
However, it can likewise play host to over 40 species of insects including a number of butterfly and moth species. These include the Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta, the Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae (take note of the Latin name), the European Peacock Aglais io, and the Comma Polygonia c-album butterflies, as well as the Burnished Brass Diachrysia chrysitis, the Spectacle Abrostola triplasia, and the Nettle Top Anthophila fabriciana (again, note the name) moths.
This, to many, may seem incredibly strange owing to the sting hairs embedded in the plant, but over the course of millions of years, these insects have been able to travel between the nettle’s spines without activating the venom inside. Ultimately, like the plant itself, this allows the butterflies, moths, and dozens of other insects to escape their respective predators.
The History of the Nettle Plant and Nettle Tea
“I have eaten nettles, I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen.”
A quote from the Scottish poet, Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), who was one of many to recognise the stinging nettle’s incredible and expansive uses in numerous walks of life. From tea to table cloths; uniforms to fishing lines, the nettle has been a vital foundation of human development for thousands of years.
In fact, archeological evidence uncovered in Denmark has brought to light nettle fibres dating back to the European Bronze Age (circa 2300 - 1200 BCE). When dried and pounded, these fibres can be extracted from the nettle’s stalk and subsequently twisted into rope or even used to produce cloth. It is very similar to fabrics made from flax or hemp.
Yet it is even possible that nettle’s usage pre-dates this era! In the New World, numerous tribes including the Winnebago, Coastal Salish, Omaha, Cupeño, and the Menominee wove many items of nettle clothing, as well as using it for fishing nets. In Cree folklore, meanwhile, it was believed that the nettle was once golden with “shimmering leaves and a bright aura”. The legend goes on to explain how humans had once seldom respected the medicinal properties of the nettle, and consequently, the nettle changed colour and grew stinging hairs to surprise and hurt the ignorant.
Eventually, the humans once again learned how to respect the plant’s bountiful gifts. Alas, these gifts did not go unnoticed among the Lakota, who created a nettle root infusion to treat stomach pain, while the Potawatomi made the brew to reduce fevers. Many other tribes are also thought to have enjoyed fresh nettle leaves in specially made decoctions to purify the blood and the liver. Could this potentially be some of the earliest examples of Nettle Tea?
The highly revered ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates (circa 460 - 370 BCE), reported that there were 61 herbal remedies of the time that used nettle. However, over 2,000 years ago, one of the most common uses for the nettle plant was the practice of urtication. This is as painful as it sounds, and involves lashing the body with nettles to treat fatigue or paralysis (er, ouch?).
Most famously, this took place during the Roman invasion of Britain in the 1st Century CE. In fact, such was the dingy weather here in the present-day UK that Roman soldiers believed that purposely stinging themselves with nettles was the only way to stimulate tired, painful legs and aching backs after long marches in our cool and wet climate!
"Suffice to say that nowadays, most people prefer to drink a nice, warm cup of nettle leaf tea after a brisk walk in the country, rather than to use the plant in this strange, age-old manner"
During the Second Century CE, Galen (129 - circa 210 CE) - another well-known Greek physician - recommended the use of nettle in his publication, De Simplicibus, as “a diuretic and laxative, for dog bites, gangrenous wounds, swellings, nose bleeding, excessive menstruation, spleen-related illness, pleurisy, pneumonia, asthma, tinea, and mouth sores”. Around this time and perhaps even before such early scientific endeavors, nettle had also become legendary in its own right. In Norse mythology, for example, nettles were recognised as sacred to the God, Thor. Traditionally, families would have thrown these plants into fires during thunderstorms to keep their homes from being destroyed by his lightning.
It was also said that Loki, the Norse God of mischief, used nettle to make fishing rods. Alas, there is nothing particularly ‘mischievous’ about this, as it turned out to be a very good idea indeed. In Buddhist culture, the Tibetan Saint, poet, and Yogi called Milarepa once roamed the land in search of a suitable place for meditation. Eventually, Milarepa came to rest in White Rock Cave, where there was a stream of good water and a patch of stinging nettles. From the nettles, he made cloth to cover his body, and flour for inner nourishment. As time went by, his skin was said to turn as green as the nettles he so often consumed.
Stinging nettles were thoroughly examined by the 17th Century English botanist, herbalist, and physician, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), who recommended combining nettle and honey as a gargle for throat and mouth infections. He also claimed that nettles were helpful for “bladder stones or gravel, worms in children, an antiseptic for wounds and skin infections, gout, sciatica, joint aches, and as an antidote to venomous stings from animals".
Yet during this period, and following a long history of nettle’s use as a versatile fabric, cotton eventually became the most popular material owing to its greater ease in harvesting and spinning. The Urtica dioica plant saw a brief revival among the Central Powers of the First World War (1914-1918), when the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires ran short of cotton due to the conflict.
In 1915, 1.3 million kilograms of the material was collected in Germany, while the following year, this increased to 2.7 million kilograms. At the time, the quantity of nettles in Germany was estimated at 60,000 tonnes.
Mixed with 10% cotton, nettle fibre was used for underclothing, cloth, stockings, and tarpaulins. In 1917, two captured German overalls, marked with the dates 1915 and 1916 respectively, were found to be woven of a mixed fibre consisting of 85% stinging nettle!
20 years later, during the Second World War, the British government likewise saw the potential of this plant and ordered the collection of 100 tonnes of nettles, which was then used for the extraction of green dye for camouflage.
Today, it is difficult to imagine a world without the stinging nettle. Love them or hate them, they have served countless purposes over thousands of years. As this plant has advanced through the ages, so too has science, and with this, we have witnessed the fruition of facts; unquestionable facts. Dating back at least 4,000 years, there has almost always been a fitting use to the stinging nettle. Now, however, we have evidence to support these age-old claims.
Nettle Leaf Tea Benefits
The nettle leaf is rich in a multitude of vitamins, minerals, and other antioxidants, including Vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), C, D, E, and K, as well as acetylcholine, calcium, chlorophyll, chromium, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, serotonin, sulphur, and zinc, this is just to name a few.
Combined, these constituents are a dream-team working together to improve your everyday way of life. As studies are conducted on a yearly basis, it seems as if we are only at the beginning of this incredible journey to examine the wonderful health benefits of nettle tea.
"Drinking just 3 cups of Nettle Tea a day is thought to be all you need - so what are you waiting for? Let’s explore the health benefits of this fascinating, nourishing, and truly scrumptious beverage"
Nettle Tea and Allergies: Believe it or not, it is a strange fact that Nettle Leaf Tea proves to be an antidote to its own sting. We have all been told as children, at one point or another, to use Dock leaves, which are often found in close proximity to nettles, to soothe the sting of this plant. However, there is another option in the form of this tasty herbal tea. Surprisingly, although the nettle sting is highly irritant, once boiled and dried to neutralise the acid, the leaves are actually a natural antihistamine and also have anti-asthmatic properties.
This bewildering reversal of effects is one of the many reasons why nettle tea is quite literally steeped in mystery and this is just the beginning. In one preliminary human-based study published by the ‘University of Maryland Medical Center’, it was suggested that nettle capsules helped reduce itching and sneezing in participants with hay fever. In another study, 57% of test subjects rated nettles as effective in relieving their allergies, while 48% considered nettles more effective than some allergy medications.
Nettle Tea and Improved Kidney Function: “Nettle is diuretic, it increases urine output and removal of uric acid,” says naturopath, Dr. Robert Kachko. Many people in today’s society, particularly among the elderly, suffer from Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BHP). This disease is also known as prostate enlargement, and can cause symptoms such as frequent urination or even, in contrast, the inability to urinate, as well as loss of bladder control, and complications such as urinary tract infections or bladder stones.
In clinical trials held at the University of Medical Sciences in Iran, nettle and nettle tea have been shown to reduce symptoms associated with BHP. The study saw 287 patients given nettle over a 6 month period. Following this, 81% of test subjects said they had noticed a significant improvement in their symptoms.
Nettle Tea and Improved Blood Circulation: Iron is the most crucial component of nettle tea when it comes to improving blood circulation. With such high concentrations found in this beverage, it is no surprise that, when consumed as part of a healthy and active lifestyle, it can aid in alleviating anemia and even general fatigue.
This herb also contains a considerable amount of potassium, a mineral known to reduce tension in the arteries and blood vessels. Ultimately, this reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes in those who consume nettle tea on a frequent basis. However, it should be noted that further studies are required before official confirmation can be made regarding this particular health benefit.
As a result, we urge anyone suffering from blood circulation issues or anemia to consult a doctor or other medical professional before consumption.
Nettle Tea and Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Inflammation can affect many components of the body. This includes cardiovascular and digestive system health, as well as even damaging hair and skin cells. Most notably, inflammation is known to worsen conditions such as arthritis, which is often prevalent in many aging populations. It is now known that nettle leaves and nettle tea have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiulcer, and analgesic properties.
A German study has established that an extract in nettle leaves known as hox alpha can suppress several cytokines in inflammatory joint diseases. Meanwhile, a 2013 study published in ‘Phytomedicine’ found that the stinging nettle, including the root, when extracted into an oil-based solution, also helped to reduce inflammation. The anti-inflammatory nature of this brew can also aid with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, and other stomach-related issues, as well as potentially reducing symptoms associated with acne, eczema, and skin blemishes.
Nettle Leaf Tea
The possibilities are almost endless with this marvellous plant, but here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, we prefer to keep things simple with our very own Nettle Tea. Every single one of our teas and tisanes are packed to fresh in our Pluckley based factory, nestled away in the beautiful Kentish countryside. Alas, our Nettle Tea is no exception.
All we know is that, like us, you will never look at this supposedly nasty plant in the same way again. It may sting to say this, but could the stinging nettle be the most underrated herb of all time? You decide after you have tried this delicious brew.