The whole world not only moves to greener options but also wants vegan but potent skin care. But finding vegan products that are effective in anti-ageing can prove to be quite a challenge. As wacky as it sounds, stinging nettles fits the bill. It’s a plant and thanks to its stinging hairs or spines, it has become a sensation in a bottle for anyone concerned about signs of ageing.

Stinging nettle, photo by hedera.baltica

Hold on, before you dismiss it as just an annoying weed, allow me to shine some light on some of its finer qualities. Although most people don’t realise it, but the common plant is a natural treasure trove for anyone concerned about their skin. Even if it sounds highly unlikely, nettles have been used for beauty and skincare for over 2,000 years

So, what about nettles

The stinging nettle also known as common nettle and burn nettle originally grew in Europe and in the temperate parts of Asia. Now it’s commonly found worldwide. Its botanical name is Urtica dioica. The names stinging or burn nettle come from the hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems. These needle-like hairs inject a cocktail of histamine, formic acid, acetylcholine, and serotonin, when touched by humans or animals. That’s what creates a stinging sensation that won’t soon be forgotten.

Defensive hairs of the stinging nettle, photo by Carl Graph

Although the amounts of biologically active substances injected are very small, they cause a local reaction and the burning sensation. It’s how the plant protects itself from herbivores. The burn and local discomfort warn them the herbivores off, stopping them from eating or uprooting it.

The name nettle is thought to come from “noedl”, Anglo Saxon for needle.


The nettle is what we love to call weeds because they grow so easily and plentifully. Weeds are unwanted plants because they crowd out other more desired plants, are unsightly, or because if you walk in an old or overgrown garden and get stung. But the nettle was valued not only because they could be eaten, but also as textiles and fibre, as well as medicine.

During World War I, nettles were used as an alternative to cotton to make army uniforms. But the use to make textiles goes back centuries if not millennia. The heating and or grinding destroys the stinging hairs. But even if the defensive stinging hairs are neutralised during the manufacturing process, the textiles coarser and can chafe your skin.

When used as a cooking plant, people harvest the young sprouts. Even so, it needs soaking in water or cooking to neutralise the stinging cocktail. It tastes similar to spinach when cooked.

It may sound crazy, but people practiced flogging themselves deliberatively with stinging nettles as a way to help ailments such as arthritis or other inflammatory conditions. But it really helps: A recent scientific study discovered that rubbing nettles onto arthritic thumbs did help ease the pain.

The leaves can be made into a supplement, drunk as a herbal infusion to lower inflammation in your body, and of course used in skin care.

What’s to love about nettles

Stinging nettle is rich in essential nutrients making it anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, astringent, and bactericidal. It’s your ally in skin care due to its constituents.

The nettle is an excellent source of amino acids. This makes it especially interesting for vegans. You need amino acids, the building blocks of proteins so that your body can make muscles, collagen, and its also essential for healthy skin.

As a great source of minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium as well as vitamins such as vitamin C, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), and vitamin E. It also contains carotenoids (that your body makes into vitamin A) albeit not at such levels as in carrots.

Mature leaves are an excellent source of alpha linolenic acid (omega-3 acid) and other fatty acids such as palmitic and linoleic acid.

The nettle contains valuable biologically active substances such as quercetin and other flavonoids that act as potent antioxidants.

Diminish lines

Maybe you’ve heard how bee venom is better than using a Photoshop filter to diminish wrinkles and lines. Stinging nettle is the vegan but powerful alternative to bee venom and it works on the same principles. The defensive cocktail that causes a burning sensation makes your skin go into repair mode.

Even without the irritating cocktail, the nettle is not something to be sneezed at. It stimulates healing processes and regulates cellular proliferation so that ultimately, the result could be less scarring and faster healing. The amino acids and vitamin are essential for collagen formation so that your skin remains firm.

Ward of environmental impact

The high levels of antioxidants present mean that the nettle itself has antioxidant activity. When used in skin care, aka applied on your skin, it helps keep free radicals under control.

Antioxidants are important when your body goes into a condition called oxidative stress. That’s when your body can’t keep up with using antioxidants to counteract free radicals, unstable molecules, to counteract their harmful effects. They damage your body (and skin) at a cellular level. So, the more free radicals that are active, the greater the likelihood of getting signs of ageing such as wrinkles.

Soothe irritated skin

Did you know that the nettle brings its own cure when you’re stung? Whenever you get

  • Bitten by a bug
  • Razor nicks
  • Sunburned
  • Or stung by the nettle

Just grind up the leaves and or steep them in hot water to make a dressing for the affected areas.

Since the nettle is astringent, this dressing can also tighten the top layer of your skin and help razor rashes. Knowing how soothing the nettle is, makes it also an amazing plant for sensitive skin.

Even out skin tone

If you want to lift dark spots, the nettle is definitely worth a try. Containing vitamin C, the classic for lightening (and it’s also known for being an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory), the nettle is a vegan and natural solution to even out your skin tone.

How to use

Stinging nettles make for a popular ingredient in a wide range of skin care:

  • Soaps and cleansers
  • Toners
  • Serums and moisturisers (especially for anti-ageing)
  • Shampoos
  • Hair rinse and conditioners

If you do want to try drinking nettle tea, this recipe is simple and requires almost no effort:

Make a cold brew of nettle tea by placing 4 tablespoons of dried nettle leaves in 1l of cold water and leaving it overnight. When you don’t use hot water to steep the nettle leaves, it won’t extract tannins that will bind the minerals.

Before I close, nettle is said to have a stimulating effect on your scalp and prevent or slow down hair loss. That’s why it’s often found in hair care products.

Wacky But Effective Nettle Venom

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