Stinging nettles suffer from a problem of perception -- consuming anything whose name includes "stinging" does not sound like a good idea. Thin hairs on this plant may irritate your skin if handled without gloves, and there is even a stinging nettle eating competition to test contestants' pain threshold. However, preparing stinging nettles for pain-free consumption is well worth the effort: this green vegetable offers excellent nutritional value. Of course, talk to a doctor before using stinging nettle to treat any condition.
Basic Nutrition of Stinging Nettle
A 1-cup serving of blanched stinging nettles contains 37 calories and 0.1 grams of fat. With no fat, sodium, cholesterol, protein or sugar per serving, and virtually no fiber, nettle leaves are nonetheless rich in nutrients. Stinging nettle provides few carbohydrates and a small amount of protein, as well. One cup contains 6.6 grams of carbohydrates and 2.4 grams of protein. Be sure to supplement your diet with protein and carbohydrate-rich foods to meet your nutritional goals, generally 130 grams of carbohydrates and 46 to 56 grams of protein.
Minerals in Nettle Root and Leaves
Bastyr University, a natural-medicine education center in Washington State, notes that nettle is a nutritious food that has vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium and silica. Stinging nettle is naturally high in iron, with 1.46 milligrams per 1-cup serving of cooked leaves -- the equivalent of 2 cups of fresh leaves or 2 tablespoons of crushed, dried leaves -- which makes 1 cup of nettle tea. Stinging nettles supply iron -- each 1-cup portion contains 7.7 percent to 17.5 percent of the daily recommended intake, depending on your nutritional requirements. The calcium content of stinging nettles is also significant: 1 cup provides 32.9 to 42.8 percent of the amount you require daily. Calcium promotes strong teeth and bones, and it may also lessen the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, preventing headaches, mood swings and bloating.
Vitamins in Nettle Tea
Including stinging nettles in your diet gives you a huge boost in vitamin A. A 1-cup serving contains 1,790 IU of this vitamin, nearly three times the amount you need in a single day. Vitamin D works with calcium to strengthen your teeth and bones, although its main role in the body is to normalize the amount of calcium and phosphorus in your bloodstream. Your body is able to store extra vitamin A, so the additional vitamins you consume are not wasted. Stinging nettles also serve as an excellent source of vitamin K, a vitamin your body requires for blood clotting. Each 1-cup portion contains 369 to 493 percent of the daily recommended intake. Like vitamin D, your body can store vitamin K for later use.
Stinging Nettle for Iron Deficiency
Iron is an essential mineral that helps produce hemoglobin and myoglobin, two proteins that carry oxygen in your body. As hemoglobin is stored in your red blood cells, iron is also important for the production of red blood cells. Although nettle is a rich source of iron and may be beneficial for treating anemia, it should not be used in place of accepted medicine. Nettle also contains pro-vitamin A, the vitamin B complex, vitamin K1 and vitamin C, which can help the body absorb the iron and other minerals found in the plant. Both the leaves and the roots of the plant have long been used in herbal medicine, according to the nutritional-education website Herbs 2000, and nettle has frequently been used to make tonics to treat weakness and anemia symptoms.
Nettle Root Constituents and Effects
Nettle root contains steroidal compounds, caffeic and malic acids, polysaccharides and a group of phytoestrogens called lignans. A combination of histamine, serotonin and choline on the hairs of the leaves and stems is responsible for the plant's skin-irritating properties. Nettles have possible antispasmodic, diuretic and expectorant effects; they also have anti-inflammatory qualities, which Blue Shield Complementary and Alternative Health attributes to their ability to inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Drugs.com -- which supplies peer-reviewed medical information to consumers -- reports that some nettle extracts have been shown to reduce prostate size and theorizes this is caused by nettles' ability to reduce plasma levels of a protein called sex hormone–binding globulin.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Stinging Nettle
- The Telegraph: World Stinging Nettle Eating Championship attracts record crowd
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database: Stinging Nettles, blanched (Northern Plains Indians)
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Calcium
- Drugs.com: Complete Nettles Information
- Herbs 2000: Nettle
Nicki Wolf has been writing health and human interest articles since 1986. Her work has been published at various cooking and nutrition websites. Wolf has an extensive background in medical/nutrition writing and online content development in the nonprofit arena. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Temple University.