Is Stinging Nettle a Skin Health Superstar? 

Beauty secrets from a prickly spring garden “pest”
stinging nettle leaves in a spherical glass with tea
Pexels / Mareefe

Watching out for stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) when doing a happy spring dance barefoot may be wise, but make sure not to avoid this potent plant altogether, which is exactly what you need to freshen up your spring beauty regimen!

Stinging nettle is one of the very first plants to emerge in spring throughout many North American regions and is the bane of many flower bed gardeners. The traditional use of this seemingly exasperating plant has all but been forgotten. Around the world where stinging nettle grows, it has historically been harvested for a spring tonic to nourish and detox, reduce whole body inflammation, and to balance hormones and strengthen cellular tissue. What does reducing inflammation and supporting tissue cells have to do with your overall visage? I’m going to tell you!

Inside-Out Support for Glowing Skin

Stinging nettle is a plant capable of offering support from your bones to your dewy glow. Bodily systems have a direct impact on the aesthetic quality of the skin, including the musculoskeletal systems, circulatory and immune systems, along with the gastrointestinal, genitourinary, and endocrine organs. Good digestive function and bone health are important for the body’s proper assimilation of nutrients. When these systems are impacted negatively, cell repair and the elimination of defective cells is more difficult, leading to greater incidence of disease and external “red flags” such as acne, fine lines, rashes, pigmentation spots, and loss of elasticity. The bodily systems work together to keep proper functioning of the human body, and when working well, they add to the natural clarity and luminance of skin. 

Nourishing nutrients

Stinging nettle has been called a “multivitamin herb” as it contains iron, selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, calcium, manganese, carotene, boron, iodine, chromium, copper, sulfur, vitamin A, B, C, and K, potassium, fatty acids, and protein. It is also high in antioxidants, as the dry leaves contain 4.8 mg of chlorophyll per gram (this can vary depending on whether your plant was grown in the sun or the shade). It is known that most of these nutrients are imperative for healthy looking skin, and some studies conclude that consuming or applying chlorophyll topically provides skin with anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, helps to treat acne, minimizes the appearance of pores, and improves the signs of aging.

The bone health connection

Studies also show that there is a connection between the deterioration and dryness of skin and osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other bone pathologies. This makes sense when considering that connective tissue like bone is responsible for the fortitude of our bones, hair, nails, and skin. Connective tissue also has a role in the storage, absorption, and disposal of waste from the body. It transports vitamins, nutrients, and oxygen while also protecting us from harmful contaminants and providing immune support. 

The quality of the skin, both in appearance and strength, is directly impacted by the vitality of the connective tissue, as it’s responsible for structural support, including: tendons, ligaments, bone and cartilage, thermal insulation (or fat), and blood production for bone marrow and lymphatic tissue. As a connective tissue, bone is composed of a solid extracellular matrix and cells, including osteoblasts, osteocytes, and osteoclasts. These are the three cell types involved in the development, growth, and remodelling of bones. Osteoblasts are bone-forming cells, osteocytes are mature bone cells, and osteoclasts break down and reabsorb bone. 

In one Swiss study, male mice were administered stinging nettle during a maxillary expansion procedure—researchers found new bone formation and the number of osteoblasts, osteoclasts, and capillaries highest in the group of mice receiving doses of stinging nettle (Celal et. Al, 2016). In supporting the health of bones by consuming stinging nettle, we may also reduce symptoms of poor skin health.

Anti-inflammatory power

Stinging nettle is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, as it can impact the musculoskeletal system and subsequently, our skin too. A healthy maintenance of muscle mass is important for youthful-appearing skin. In our youth, the fat pads under the skin sit snugly together; but as skin ages, it begins to sag, and those pads become thinner and not as tightly fit together. Muscle is what gives skin fullness in this life stage. Aging has adverse effects on skeletal muscles, with the progressive deterioration of cellular tissue tightly related to inflammation. 

In a study involving rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation, hyperproliferation of the synovial lining, and cartilage destruction, stinging nettle was found to potentially regulate inflammatory mediators (Riehemann et. al, 1999). In reducing the overall inflammation in the body, many of the outer symptoms of internal inflammation, such as acne, redness, and dull and loose skin, are alleviated as well. 

How to Add Stinging Nettle to Your Life

Now that we know stinging nettle should no longer be thrown aside but coveted, how do we go about getting into our daily regimen? 

stinging nettle leaf
Pexels / Mariya


Harvest stinging nettle

The optimal time to pick stinging nettle is just before blossoms develop in spring and early summer. Stinging nettle is a cold season perennial plant, meaning it is early to pop up in the spring. It grows rapidly and will reach its typical 3–5-foot height quite quickly. Here where I live in Manitoba, ideal picking time is mid-May to June. The leaves will be at their best – bright green, tender, and there’s few insects. Once nettle has gone to seed, the leaves will become tough, a little bitter, and develop gritty particles that may irritate the urinary tract of some people. It is best not to harvest stinging nettle once the seeds form.

Wearing a sturdy pair of gloves, cut about 2–3 inches above ground level, just above where there are two leaves branching off. Cutting here encourages new growth; by mid-summer, you should be able to harvest these again. Store your cuttings in a paper bag or basket.

Note: Plastic bags do not breathe and may cause condensation, which will cause mold to grow if you don’t empty the bag right away.

Make a tea infusion

One of the easiest ways to tap into the benefits of nettle is to steep the fresh leaves in hot water for a tea. If you don’t have your own plant, look for a loose-leaf option at your local health food store. 

Simply cover a handful of leaves with boiling water. Let steep for ten minutes or so, then strain and drink. *For a stronger brew, loosely fill a mason jar with nettle leaves and cover with boiling water. Cover the jar and let steep overnight.

Make an infused oil

We can also use any leftover stinging nettle clippings to make an infused oil. Stinging nettle has natural astringent properties which are excellent to help brighten tighten, and firm skin while regulating natural sebum production and treating acne. It is great for dry, itchy, and inflamed skin due to insect bites, chicken pox, and eczema. This oil recipe can be used as you would any type of oil serum or topical for skin.

  1. Wash leaves thoroughly and place them in a sunny window to dry. You may also use store-bought loose leaf stinging nettle and skip this step. When making infused oil, use dry herbs as the moisture from fresh material can spoil the oil. It takes about 2-3 days to dry them completely. You can also use a dehydrator to expedite the process.
  2. Once dried, grind the leaves between your fingers to make them into smaller pieces, and cut the stems. Smaller pieces make a better extraction.
  3. Fill the sterilized glass jar with dried nettle.
  4. Pour over jojoba oil (or oil of choice—jojoba is good for sensitive and oily skin), so all dried leaves are covered completely.
  5. Place it in a double boiler and bring it to simmer. Keep the heat slow for the nettle to relieve all its medicinal properties. Make sure you don't exceed the temperature of 50°C (122°F), as most of the properties would be destroyed.
  6. Strain the herbal material with cheesecloth and discard it. Store the pure nettle oil in a sterilized jar in a dark place away from direct sunlight.

If you’re not in a hurry, you can go for the slow traditional method, which does not require a double boiler, but requires time. This method is straightforward and efficient, but you’ll need at least four weeks to achieve your desired result:

  1. Fill the jar with dried leaves and stems. 
  2. Cover them with the oil of your choice, close the jar with a lid, and place it in a warm spot for four weeks. Remember to shake it from time to time. The warm place helps the nettle to relieve its medicinal properties.
  3. After four weeks, strain the oil from the herbal material and fill it into a clean and sterilized bottle. 




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