An herbaceous plant found abundantly in North America, Europe, parts of Asia, and northern Africa, the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is spiked with tiny hollow spines. When an animal or human comes into contact with the plant, the tips of the spines break off and the chemical irritant within is effectively injected into the skin of the individual. The irritant includes formic acid and histamine, which cause a painful, itchy rash. The symptoms of contact with the stinging nettle may last anywhere from minutes to days, depending on the individual's sensitivity to the irritants. Because the chief irritant is acidic, the best way to alleviate the pain of a sting from a stinging nettle is to counteract it with a base.
Things You'll Need
- Baking soda and water
- Insect sting relief (pads, wipes, spray, etc.)
- Curled dock (Rumex crispus) or jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
- Duct tape or masking tape
- Soap and water
- Antihistamine cream
The most effective neutralizer for the acidic sting of the stinging nettle is a paste made from baking soda and water. Applied to the area of the rash immediately after contact, this works very quickly to ease the pain and soothe the itching. If you are hiking or working outside in an area known to contain stinging nettle plants, it is a good idea to carry a small container of baking soda and a bottle of water. This way, you can mix up a paste as soon as you are stung. Alternatively, you can carry insect sting-relief pads, wipes or liquid. These are also effective in relieving the pain and itching associated with the sting of stinging nettle.
If no baking soda is at hand, look around for curled dock or jewelweed. Often, these plants grow in proximity to the stinging nettle. Either of these plants may be rubbed on the exposed area to soothe the itching and burning of the sting.
If neither plant nor baking soda remedies can be had, you can rub some saliva on the affected area. Human saliva has a slightly basic quality, and in a pinch this may be your best chance for relief.
Once you return to an area where you can administer proper first aid to yourself, take a look at the affected area in good light. If you see spines protruding from your skin, use the sticky side of a piece of duct tape or masking tape to remove them. Wash the area with soap and water and pat dry. You may wish to apply an antihistamine cream to reduce swelling and redness.
If the area affected by the stinging nettles doesn't seem to be improving or you experience any additional symptoms, give your physician a call. He or she may suggest that you take an oral antihistamine or Tylenol or Ibuprofen to help deal with the discomfort.
Tips & Warnings
- Stinging nettle is actually valued as a nutritious, edible plant. Use gloves to harvest, clean and chop the nettles. Once steamed, the spines are harmless.
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