Urtica dioica) is a common herbaceous plant native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa and North America. It is known for it's sting which is caused by it's many hairs containing several chemicals. When touched the hairs break off and act as a needle injecting acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT or seratonin which cause a painful sting or paresthesia. A folk remedy for rheumatism is to flog oneself with nettles (also called urtication) producing reddness and irritation.
My interest in it is for it's rich vitamin and mineral content. Made into a tea or infusion it makes a delicious tonic. After a long winter the high mineral content makes them an excellent remedy for anaemia. Their high vitamin C content makes the iron they contain easily absorbable. Nettles also increase uric acid excretion which explains why they are a valuable remedy for arthritis and gout.
Nettles also lower blood sugar levels, encourage the flow of breast milk, are a great astringent (so stop internal bleeding) and are useful for treating eczema. It's histamine content make it an effective treatment for hay fever. It is also said that a nettle hair rinse can eliminate dandruff, make the hair more glossy and possibly arrest hair loss.
The blood invigorating properties of this common herb make it an essential component of my transition from winter to the warmer and more active seasons. I start infusing the herb early in the spring to reinvigorate myself. Infusions are different from teas in that they steep far longer and are therefore more potent. Every night before I go to bed I put a handful of dried nettles (I buy them by the pound) in a clean 24 ounce jar and pour boiling water over them. Loosely cover the jar (if you tighten it it will be difficult to open in the morning) and leave out on the counter. In the morning I strain the herbs from the infusion. I also squeeze as much liquor from the herbs as possible. You can drink them cool but I prefer to gently warm them on the stovetop. Drink a third of the infusion three times per day. I keep the infusion in the refrigerator during the day to retard spoilage. I've added a few other herbs to my brew, some for flavor and some for some other conditions I'm working on. You can add some peppermint or lemon balm to make it a bit more refreshing. I've added chamomile to mine since I'm attempting to de-stress my sometimes frazzled urban nerves. I might add that the spent herbs make excellent compost!
I should add that this is a regimen I do for myself every spring. Please be responsible and always use caution when self-medicating (standard disclaimer and all that).
Be healthy and enjoy the spring!