No plant is more commonplace and plentiful in our fields and

hedges throughout an English summer than the familiar stinging

Nettle. And yet most persons unknowingly include under this single

appellation several distinct herbs. Actually as Nettles are to be

found: the annual Urtica dioica, or true Stinging Nettle; the

perennial Urtica urens (burning); the White Dead Nettle; the

Archangel, or Yellow Weasel Snout, and the
Purple Hedge Nettle.

This title Urtica comes ab urendo, from burning.

The plant which stings has a round hairy stalk, and carries only a

dull colourless bloom, whereas the others are labiate herbs with

square stems, and conspicuous lipped flowers. As Simples only the

great Stinging Nettle, the lesser Stinging Nettle, and the white Dead

Nettle call for observation. Also another variety of our Stinging

Nettle is the Urtica pilulifera, called by [383] corruption the

Roman Nettle, really because found abundantly at Romney in Kent.

But a legend obtains belief with some that Roman soldiers first

brought with them to England the seeds of this plant, and sowed it

about for their personal uses. They heard before coming that the

climate here was so cold that it might not be endured without some

friction to warm the blood, and to stir up the natural heat; and they

therefore bethought them to provide Nettles wherewith to chafe

their limbs when stiffe and much benummed. Or, again, Lyte says,

They do call al such strange herbes as be unknown of the common

people Romish, or Romayne herbes, although the same be brought

direct from Sweden or Norweigh. The cure for Nettle stings has

been from early times to rub the part with a dock leaf. The dead

Nettles are so named as having no sting, but possessing nettle-like

leaves. The stinging effect of the true Nettle is caused by an acrid

secretion contained in minute vesicles at the base of each of the stiff

hairs; and urtication, or flogging, with Nettles, is an old external

remedy, which was long practised for chronic rheumatism, and loss

of muscular power. Tacta quod exurat digitos urtica tenentis.

--Macer. Tea made from the young tops is a Devonshire cure for

Nettle-rash. Gerard says, the Nettle is a good medicine for them

that cannot breathe unless they hold their necks upright: and being

eaten boiled with periwinkles it makes the body soluble.

The word Nettle is derived from net, meaning something spun, or

sewn; and it indicates the thread made from the hairs of the plant,

and formerly used among Scandinavian nations. This was likewise

employed by Scotch weavers in the seventeenth century. Westmacott,

the historian, says, Scotch cloth is only the [384] housewifery

of the Nettle. And the poet Campbell writes in one of his

letters, I have slept in Nettle sheets, and dined off a Nettle table

cloth: and I have heard my mother say she thought Nettle cloth

more durable than any other linen. Goldsmith has recorded the

rubbing of a cock's heart with stinging Nettles to make it hatch

hen's eggs. Some think the word Nettle an alteration of the

Anglo-Saxon Needl, with reference to the needle-like stings. Spun

silk is now made in England from Ramie the decorticated fibre of

Nettles after washing away the glutinous juice from under their


The seeds (dioica) contain a fine oil, and powerfully stimulate the

sexual functions.

In Russia, as a recent mode of treatment, urtication is now

enthusiastically commended, that is, slapping, or pricking with a

bundle of fresh Nettle twigs for one or more minutes, once, or

several times in the day. It is a superlative method of cure because

harmless (neither irritating the kidneys nor disfiguring the skin),

cleanly, simple in application, rapid in its effects, and cheap, though

perhaps somewhat rude. For sciatica, for incipient wasting, for the

difficult breathing of some heart troubles (where such stimulation

along the backbone affords more prompt and complete relief than

any other treatment), for some coughs palsy, suppression of the

monthly flow in women, rheumatism, and for lack of muscular

energy, this urtication is said to be an invaluable resuscitating

measure which has been successfully resorted to by the peasantry of

Russia from time immemorial. It will sometimes produce a crop of

small harmless blisters.

The analysis of the fresh Nettle shows a presence of formic acid (the

irritating principle of the stinging hairs), with mucilage, salts,

ammonia, carbonic acid, and [385] water. A strong decoction of

Nettles drunk too freely by mistake has produced severe burning

over the whole body, with general redness, and a sense of being

stung. The features became swollen, and minute vesicles appeared

on the skin, which burst, and discharged a limpid fluid. No fever

accompanied the attack, and after five or six days the eruption dried

up. A medicinal tincture (H.) is made from the entire plant with

spirit of wine: and this, as taught by the principle of similars, may

be confidently given in small diluted doses to mitigate such a

totality of symptoms as now described, whether coming on as an

attack of severe Nettle rash, or assuming some more pronounced

eruptive aspect, such as chicken pox. The same tincture also acts

admirably in cases of burns, when the deep skin is not destructively

involved. And again for relieving the itching of the fundament

caused by the presence of threadworms.

Burns, says Lucomsky, may be rapidly cured by applying over

them linen cloths well wetted with an alcoholic tincture of the

Stinging Nettle prepared from the fresh plant, this being diluted with

an equal, or a double quantity of cold water. The cloths should be

frequently re-wetted, but without removing them, so as to prevent

pain from exposure. Dr. Burnett has shown conclusively that Nettle

tea, and Nettle tincture (ten drops for a dose in water), are curative

of feverish gout, as well as of intermittent fever and ague. Either

remedy will promote a speedy extrication of gravel through the

kidneys. Again the Nettle was a favourite old English remedy for

consumption, as already mentioned (see Mugwort), with reference

to the mermaid of the Clyde, when she beheld with regret the

untimely funeral of a young Glasgow maiden.

[386] Fresh Nettle juice given in doses of from one to two

tablespoonfuls is a most serviceable remedy for all sorts of bleeding,

whether from the nose, the lungs, or some internal organ. Also the

decoction of the leaves and stalks taken in moderate quantities is

capital for many of the minor skin maladies.

An alcoholic extract is made officinally from the entire young plant

gathered in the spring, and some of this if applied on cotton wool

will arrest bleeding from the nose, or after the extraction of a tooth,

when persistent. If a leaf of the plant be put upon the tongue and

pressed against the roof of the mouth, it will stop a bleeding from

the nose. Taken as a fresh young vegetable in the spring, or early

summer, Nettle tops make a very wholesome and succulent dish of

greens, which is slightly laxative; but during Autumn they are

hurtful. In Italy where herb soups are in high favour, herb knodel

(or round balls made like a dumpling in size and consistency) of

Nettles are esteemed as nourishing and medicinal. The greater

Nettle (Urtica dioica), and the lesser Nettle (Urtica urens)

possess stinging properties in common.

A crystalline alkaloid which is fatal to frogs in a dose of one

centigramme, has been isolated from the common Stinging Nettle.

The watery extract has but little effect on mammals: but in the frog

it causes paralysis, beginning in the great nervous centres and

finally stopping the action of the heart. If planted in the

neighbourhood of beehives, the Nettle will serve to drive away


The expressed seeds yield an oil which may be used for burning in

lamps. Nettle leaves, rubbed into wooden vessels, such as tubs, &c.,

will prevent their leaking. The juice of the leaves coagulates, and

fills up the [387] interstices of the wood. When dried the leaves will

often relieve asthma and similar bronchial troubles by inhalation,

although other means have failed. Eight or ten grains should be

burnt, and the fumes inspired at bedtime.

The Lamium album (white dead Nettle), a labiate plant, though

not of the stinging Nettle order, is likewise of special use for

arresting haemorrhage, as in spitting of blood, dysentery, and female

fluxes. Its name Lamium is got from the Greek laimos, the

throat, because of the shape of its corollae. If the plant be macerated

in alcohol for a week, then cotton wool dipped in the liquid is as

efficacious for staying bleeding, when applied to the spot, as the

strongly astringent muriate of iron. Also, a tincture of the flowers is

made (H.) for internal use in similar cases. From five to ten drops of

this tincture should be given for a dose with a tablespoonful of cold

water. The Red Nettle, another Lamium, is also called Archangel,

because it blossoms on St. Michael's day, May 8th. If made into a

tea and sweetened with honey, it promotes perspiration, and acts on

the kidneys. The white dead Nettle is a degenerate form of this

purple herb as shown by still possessing on its petals the same

brown markings. Nevertheless, having disobeyed the laws of its growth,

it has lost its original colour, and, like the Lady of Shalott, it

is fain to complain the curse has come upon me. Count Mattaei's

nostrum Pettorale is thought to be got from the Galeopsis

(hemp Nettle), another of the labiate herbs, with Nettle-like leaves,

but no stinging hairs, named from galee, a cat, or weazel, and

opsis, a countenance, because supposed to have a blossom

resembling the face of the animal specified.