Stinging nettle is the English generic name for the many species of the Urtica genus that sting, through the hairs on the leaf and stems, although not all nettles do so. Traditionally used as a free foodstuff, nettle leaf can be used in soups, cordials, dried for use as herbal tea, or boiled as a vegetable which tastes very like spinach.
It is rich in vitamins A, C, B2 (riboflavin) and K; minerals including calcium, manganese, iron, and potassium; and fatty acids. Nettle is high in carotenoids, including zeaxanthin and lutein, which provide yellow pigmentation and, more importantly, act as powerful antioxidants. Stored in the retina of the eye, they can help decrease age-related macular degeneration and the development of cataracts.
As far back as ancient Greece, nettles have been used in the treatment of urinary tract and prostate infections. They have strong anti-inflammatory properties which can help to treat painful joints and arthritic conditions, while their histamine content is found to be effective in alleviating symptoms of hayfever and allergies.
These anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties also combine to good effect in the treatment of rashes and skin conditions such as eczema, when taken internally or applied topically to the skin.