Stinging nettle leaves

Chinese: 荨麻

Pinyin: Xún Má

Parts used: Dried aerial parts

TCM category: Herbs that dispel Wind and Dampness

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): BitterPungent

Meridian affinity: Liver

Scientific name: Urtica dioica

Other names: Common nettle or Nettle leaf

Use of stinging nettle leaves (Xún Má) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitionner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities, wash, soak in water, cut and dry.

Dosage: 5-10 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears the meridians and expel wind-dampness. Smooth digestion and kills parasites.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which stinging nettle leaves may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Rheumatism Hypertension Constipation Snake bites Intestinal parasites Indigestion Muscle cramps Postpartum spasms Hives

Contraindications*: Should not be used if patients have week stomach and spleen.

Key TCM concepts behind stinging nettle leaves' properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), stinging nettle leaves are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that dispel Wind and Dampness' category. These herbs typically help treat what's called 'bi pain' (i.e. painful obstruction) in TCM. This roughly corresponds to arthritic and rheumatic conditions with pain, stiffness and numbness of the bones, joints and muscles.

Furthermore stinging nettle leaves are plants that are Cold in nature. This means that stinging nettle leaves typically help people who have too much "heat" in their body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much heat in their body are said to either have a Yang excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition stinging nettle leaves can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Stinging nettle leaves also taste Bitter and Pungent. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like stinging nettle leaves tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing heat, drying dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Pungent ingredients tend to promote the circulations of Qi and body fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such stinging nettle leaves are thought to target the Liver. In TCM the Liver is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and body fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on stinging nettle leaves

Nettle has a significant antihyperglycemic effect in OGTT model.1

Water extract of nettle (Urtica dioica) (WEN) has powerful antioxidant activity. WEN also showed antimicrobial activity against nine microorganisms, antiulcer activity against ethanol-induced ulcerogenesis and analgesic effect on acetic acid-induced stretching.2


1. Mohamed Bnouham, Fatima-Zahra Merhfour, Abderrahim Ziyyat, Hassane Mekhfi, Mohammed Aziz, Abdelkhaleq Legssyer (2003). Antihyperglycemic activity of the aqueous extract of Urtica dioica. Fitoterapia, Volume 74, Issues 7–8, Pages 677-681.

2. İlhami Gülçin, Ö.İrfan Küfrevioǧlu, Münir Oktay, Mehmet Emin Büyükokuroǧlu (2004). Antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiulcer and analgesic activities of nettle (Urtica dioica L.). Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 90, Issues 2–3, Pages 205-215. DOI:

Use of stinging nettle leaves as food

Stinging nettle leaves are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Stinging nettle purée.