Urtica dioica, commonly referred to as nettles, are perennial plants that are native to Europe, but also found throughout the United States and parts of Canada. Nettles have a long history of medicinal use, and the leaves and roots are made into a tea and drunk for a variety of health-enhancing purposes. Nettles might cause unwanted side effects and interact with certain medications, however, and you should consult your health care practitioner before drinking nettle tea.

Nettles are nutrient dense and contain fatty acids, the minerals calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sulfur and zinc, as well as vitamins B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, C, E, K and folate. In addition, nettles contain numerous phytochemicals, including lycopene, beta-carotene, caffeic acid, acetic acid and betaine. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant compounds that prevent free-radical-induced damage to your cells and DNA, and thereby help prevent and treat diseases in humans. According to nutritionist Phyllis Balch and Dr. James Balch, in their book "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," nettles have anti-inflammatory, diuretic and pain-relieving properties. They also have expectorant properties, which means they can help relieve respiratory difficulties by dissolving and clearing excess mucus from your lungs.

Alternative medicine practitioners use nettle tea as a general health tonic and to help treat anemia, asthma, allergies such as hay fever and allergic rhinitis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, cancer, diabetes, goiter, kidney problems and malabsorption syndrome. People also drink nettle tea to treat inflammatory disorders such as urinary tract inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Most of these uses are based on anecdotal reports and not solid scientific evidence, however.

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