Nettle Plant Stings Skin But May Help Prostate

Brush against stinging nettle (Urtica dioica L.) and you'll know how it got its name. Hairs on the leaves and stems of this tall perennial plant, rampant in the U.S. and Europe, release burning chemicals when touched. Roman soldiers are said to have lashed their skin with the heart-shaped, serrated nettle leaves to keep warm.

What It Might Do: Beyond the sting, nettle has possible medicinal value. European folkloric medicine valued the plant as a diuretic, an astringent and a blood builder. As a tonic, nettle leaf tea is said to clear chronic skin conditions like acne and eczema and lessen seasonal allergies.

Clinical studies attest to at least some healing effects. In a study of 69 people with seasonal allergies at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Oregon, those taking a freeze-dried nettle extract (two 300-milligram capsules a day) for one week at the onset of symptoms rated the treatment better than a placebo.

In Germany, nettle root is used to manage early benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate. Studies there show it improves urine flow and decreases nighttime urination, although it does not shrink the prostate. Other European studies document anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Germany has approved nettle leaf to treat rheumatic diseases and kidney infections.

How It Works: Nettle may ease BPH symptoms by altering testosterone levels. But which of the 20 or so identified compounds in nettle are responsible for this is not known.

If You Take: Nettle leaf is widely available in teas, tinctures and capsules. A typical dose is three cups of tea a day or 30 to 120 drops of tincture three times a day. To make a tea, pour one cup of boiling water over one to three teaspoons of dried herb and infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. Freeze dried extract is often used to alleviate hay fever. Dried nettle root for relief of BPH may soon be available in the U.S.

Caution: Mild stomach upset has been reported when the herb is taken on an empty stomach or in excess amounts.

EN Weighs In: Nettle is considered very safe. Many people use nettle tea regularly as a tonic, especially in the springtime, to combat skin problems and hay fever, though such uses are not proven. For older men with BPH, a trial of nettle root may be worthwhile to provide relief from urinary difficulties. But first confirm a diagnosis of BPH from a doctor.

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