Preparations: Fluid Extract of Urtica
The leaves and root of Urtica dioica, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: Nettle, Stinging nettle, Great stinging nettle.
Botanical Source.—This plant is a perennial, herbaceous, dull-green plant, armed with minute rigid hairs or prickles, which transmit a venomous fluid when pressed. The stem is obtusely 4-angled, branching, 2 to 4 feet high, arising from a creeping and branching root, with fleshy shoots and many fibers. The leaves are opposite, petiolate, cordate, lance-ovate, spreading, conspicuously acuminate, coarsely and acutely serrate, the point entire, armed with stings, and are 3 or 4 inches long, and about half as wide. The flowers are small, green, monoecious or dioecious, in branching, clustered, axillary, interrupted spikes, longer than the petioles (W.—L.).
History and Chemical Composition.—This is a well-known plant, common to Europe and the United States, growing in waste places, by woodsides, in hedges, and in gardens, flowering from June to September. A decoction of the plant, strongly salted, will quickly coagulate milk without imparting to it any unpleasant flavor. The leaves and root are generally used, and yield their virtues to water. A fabric, known as nettle-cloth, has been woven from the bast fibers of nettle. The young shoots have been boiled and eaten as a remedy for scurvy. The irritation caused by rubbing the sharp hairs of the nettle on the skin, is believed to be caused by the free formic acid which they contain (Gorup-Besanez, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1850, p. 181). According to G. Haberlandt (1886), the poisonous action of the hairs of the stinging nettle is not due to formic acid, but to an unorganized ferment or enzyme. Mr. B. Shoemaker (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1866, p. 493), who has found starch, gum, albumen, lignin, sugar, and two resins, in the root, believes the diuretic properties of the root to be due to a warm, penetrating, volatile oil. The leaves contain tannic and gallic acids, gum, wax, etc. (Saladin, 1830). L. Reuter (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1890, p. 11, from Pharm. Centralh., 1890) found the leaves of U. urens and U. dioica and the seeds of U. pilulifera to contain a non-nitrogenous glucosid, giving precipitates with some alkaloidal reagents. The juice of the fresh plant is said to evolve nitrous fumes upon being heated. This is probably due to the action of formic acid upon nitrates (E. Giustianini, Jahresb. der Pharm., 1896, p. 239).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Common nettle is astringent, tonic, and diuretic. A decoction is valuable in diarrhoea and dysentery, with profuse discharges, and in hemorrhoids, various hemorrhages, and scorbutic affections, and has been recommended in febrile affections, gravel, and other nephritic complaints. A strong syrup made of the root, combined with suitable quantities of wild-cherry bark and blackberry root, forms an excellent remedy for all summer complaints of children, and bowel affections of adults. In cholera infantum and other summer disorders of children, with profuse watery or mucous discharges, the following treatment gives excellent results: Rx Specific urtica, ʒss; water, ℥iii. Mix. Dose, a teaspoonful, every 1 or 2 hours. It is especially applicable in chronic diseases of the colon, with increased secretion of mucus. The leaves of the fresh plant stimulate, inflame, and even raise blisters on those portions of the skin with which they come in contact, and have, in consequence, been used as a powerful rubefacient. Paralysis is said to have been cured by whipping the affected limbs with them. Applied to bleeding surfaces, they are an excellent styptic. The seeds and flowers, given in wine, in doses not to exceed 1 drachm, have been reputed equal to cinchona in tertian and quartan agues—larger doses will, it is said, induce a lethargic sleep. The seeds, in doses of 14 or 16, and repeated 3 times daily, are highly recommended as a remedy for goitre, and to reduce excessive corpulence; they are also considered anthelmintic. The seeds may also be prepared in strong tincture with full strength alcohol, the dose of which, for goitre, would be from a fraction of a drop to 10 drops. Dr. J. D. McCann (Ec. Med. Gleaner, 1893, p. 62) praises this agent as a remedy for eczematous affections, and relates a case of stubborn eczema of the face, neck, and ears that was readily and completely cured by the following local application: Rx Specific urtica, flʒii; rose water, fl℥i. Mix. Apply every 3 or 4 hours. Several other cases have also yielded to it. A child with "a crust-covered head, with here and there a bleeding surface," that had long resisted treatment, yielded in a short time to softening applications of olive oil, thorough ablutions with soap and water, drying the parts, and applying the solution as above recommended. Some physicians prescribe the remedy internally at the same time that they are using it locally. It is also a remedy for chronic cystitis, with mucous discharges. Warts, rubbed with the freshly expressed juice of this plant, 3 or 4 times a day, continuing the application daily for 10 or 12 days, disappear without any pain being produced (M. Jaroschevitz). Dose of the powdered root or leaves, from 20 to 40 grains; of the decoction, from 2 to 4 fluid ounces; of specific urtica, 1/10 to 10 drops.
Specific indications and Uses.—Chronic diarrhoea and dysentery, with large mucous evacuations; profuse secretion of gastric juice, with eructations and emesis; choleraic discharges; summer bowel diseases. of children, with copious watery and mucous passages; chronic eczematous eruptions.
Related Species.—Urtica urens, Linné, or Dwarf nettle, possesses similar properties, and has been found very efficient in uterine hemorrhage. It also allays urethral and cystic irritation. It is also reputed galactagogue. It has a branching, hispid, stinging stem, 1 or 2 feet high, with broadly elliptic, acutely serrate leaves, about 5-veined, on short petioles, 1 or 2 inches long, and about two-thirds as broad. Flowers in drooping, pedunculate, nearly simple clusters, 2 in each axil, and shorter than the petioles. This is an annual, introduced from Europe (AV.).
Pilea pumila, Gray (Urtica pumila), Cool-weed, Rich-weed, or Stingless nettle, has a peculiar, grateful, strong smell, indicating active properties. The herb contains a crystallizable glucosid, and an aromatic, vanilla-like substance (F. R. Weiser, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1888, p. 390). It is stated that the leaves, bruised, give immediate relief in inflammations, painful swellings, ecchymoses, erysipelas, and the topical poison of rhus; and that an ointment made from it is beneficial in inflammatory rheumatism. This is the Pilea pumila of Lindley, and has a smooth, shining, ascending, weak and succulent, often branched, and translucent stem, 4 to 18 inches high, and, together with the whole plant, destitute of stings. Leaves on long petioles, opposite, rhombic-ovate, crenate-serrate, membranaceous, glabrous, pointed, 3-nerved, about 2 inches long, and two-thirds as broad. Flowers monoecious, triandrous, in axillary, corymbed heads, shorter than the petioles. Sepals of the fertile flowers lanceolate, and a little unequal. This plant is worthy of further investigation (W.).
Laportea canadensis, Gaudichaud (Urtica canadensis, Linné), has strong bast fibers and stinging hairs, and is adapted to use in making cordage. Other plants yielding cordage-fibers are the RAMIE (Boehmeria nivea, Hooker and Arnott., used in manufacturing Chinese grass-cloth. The variety candicans of Weddell, yields the fiber known as rhea. The fibers of these plants are often woven with silk, or substituted therefor. Urtica cannabina, Linné, a Siberian species, is also cultivated for its fibers.
Urtica stimulans, Linné; Urtica crenulata, Roxburgh;and Urtica urentissima, Blume, all of India, are extremely irritating plants, more so than common stinging nettle.
Lamium album (Urtica iners, or Urtica mortua; Nat. Ord.—Labiatae), Henbit. Florain isolated from this plant a principle which he named lamine. The plant has been used, domestically, in bronchitis, hemorrhages, leucorrhoea, and scrofulous disorders.
Urtica pilulifera, Linné.—India, central Asia, and south Europe. The fruit of this species is regarded in the East as a galactagogue, and diuretic virtues are ascribed to the root. The seeds contain a non-nitrogenous glucosid (Reuter; see above).