Stinging nettle, with its odd-sounding name, grows throughout the US and is thought by some to be nothing more than a weed. This deep green, leafy plant can indeed grow to six feet tall or more. And if you’re hiking in a damp forest or taking a stroll past a weed-filled, untended lot, you’ll likely happen upon nettle. But don’t be deceived—stinging nettle is a nutritious spring food and is widely considered to be one of the most useful of botanical medicines. As a food, stinging nettle is often eaten like spinach. It contains calcium, potassium, iron and plant protein. The irritating needles are destroyed by steaming. Some people harvest stinging nettle on their own or buy it at a local farmer’s market.

As a medicine, I frequently recommend stinging nettle to treat…

• Seasonal allergies. When allergy season begins (or up to a month before, if possible), patients who suffer from annoying seasonal allergy symptoms can start using nettle in tea or tincture form. The typical dose is 16 ounces daily of nettle tea or one-quarter teaspoon of tincture in two ounces of water, twice a day—taken at least 15 minutes before or after eating. The herb helps strengthen the body’s immune system to reduce common allergy symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and fatigue.

For prompt allergy relief: Freeze-dried nettle in capsule form is an effective and convenient way to help fight symptoms. A typical dose is two capsules three or four times a day when you have allergy symptoms. Many of my patients find that they need more nettle at the beginning of allergy season and that they are able to reduce the dose after a few weeks. Once allergy season is over, you can stop taking this herbal medicine.

• Cough. Nettle also acts as an expectorant, a medicine that helps push mucus out of your throat and lungs. For patients who have a simple cough or cough due to bronchitis, for example, I often recommend nettle tea or tincture. A typical dose is four ounces of tea, four times a day…or one-quarter teaspoon of tincture in two ounces of water, four times a day.

• Enlarged prostate. Men with enlarged prostate experience urinary frequency—especially at night—and difficulty initiating and/or maintaining urination. Nettle root is frequently found in men’s prostate formulas, which contain other herbs such as saw palmetto and pygeum africanum.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure how stinging nettle works, but because it has multiple medicinal uses, it continues to be studied in North America and Europe. Because the plant is considered generally safe to use as medicine, you can purchase it over-the-counter and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. But if you want to try nettle, it’s wise to visit a health-care practitioner who is knowledgeable about botanical medicines. This includes naturopathic physicians. To find one near you, consult The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians,

Caution: If you are allergic to any type of weed, don’t use stinging nettle. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease or take a blood thinner, lithium or a sedative, talk to your doctor before taking nettle. This herb can interact with certain medications­—especially those listed here and used for the conditions above. Pregnant women should not use nettle.

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