Nettles are a very common invasive weed, reliably growing wildly all over my current home in New England this time of year. This is a relatively easy and safe plant to identify by its spiky and vibrant green leaves and deceivingly thorny stem giving them it’s trademark name “stinging nettles”. Those thorns STING – so be sure to have gloves on if harvesting (honestly the gloves are more of a requirement than a suggestion).
According to Healthline, some of the chemicals released in these tiny hair-like thorns are: histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, leukotrienes, and moroidin. A cocktail of chemicals causing a sting and rash if contact is excessive. Nettles are a powerhouse of nutrients and what I often describe as nature’s hair-skin-and-nails vitamin. It is a potent source of the minerals iron, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper as well as the vitamins A, C, K, and B. Phytonutrients found in nettle include chlorophyll, beta-carotene, lutein, quercetin. All of which directly improve the health of hair, nails and skin. Nettles leaves have been used traditionally for hair loss, and one study found that a certain compound in the leaves stimulates angiogenesis (creation of new blood vessels) supporting new hair growth!
BALANCED BLOOD SUGAR
I know everyone knows that sugar affects overall health and skin, but let’s get into how exactly that works. When you eat carbohydrates (sugar), your body releases a surge of Insulin, a hormone made in your pancreas, to help stabilize our blood sugar by pulling sugar out of your blood and into cells where it can be put to use as energy OR stores it for periods of low sugar. Your cells NEED sugar, and insulin essentially is a key to unlock a cell and allow sugar in. This helps keep the body in balance and give us the energy we need while we eat throughout the day.
So blood sugar is really a measure of how effectively the body uses glucose.
NOW assuming we’re non-diabetic, as amazing a system as our bodies have to keep our blood sugar balanced, we still need to support it. So what are some common causes of an imbalance in the average healthy adult? Excessive delays between meals and poor nutrition. Consuming a lot of carbs and high glycemic foods can send some peoples blood sugar on a rollercoaster, and yes this includes the saturday night alcohol and late night pizza. Excessive consumption of high sugar foods can lead to insulin resistance from cells, and one study found Nettle may safely improve glycemic control in type 2 diabetic patients (insulin resistance) needing insulin therapy!
The systemic inflammation that your body experiences when it is flooded with sugar deeply affects your skin and radiant glow. Sugar can attach to Collagen (the protein in skin we all know and love!) and begin a process known as Glycation, this is the beginning of a process that leads to collagen breakdown causing wrinkles and loss of firmness. Glycation can increase acne in those prone, as well as lead to dark spots on the skin. Unstable blood sugar can even stimulate oil production in acne prone skin.
Regular consumption of nettles has been shown to keep blood sugar balanced and give you a heaping serving of crucial micronutrients! In this way we can actually keep our skin looking radiant from the inside out by supporting our collagen, elastin, and inflammatory responses. One esthetician described nettles as an inner substitution for extractions – by supplementing regularly with nettle it can help alleviate clogging in the skin from even happening in the first place by keeping blood sugar controlled.
Mostly just the leaves and stems are used medicinally. I typically make tea with the dried leaves – simply steep them in hot water. This makes a great overnight infusion, especially with a bit of mint to balance out the flavor. I also use a Nettle tincture, which is great for travel or for those less likely to drink tea – just add a dropper full into water and drink.