If you have ever brushed up against a stinging nettle plant, you know that its name is well-deserved. However, while a nettle sting can be quite a painful experience, there's also an up side to this curious plant.

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What Are Stinging Nettles?

Geography

Stinging nettles are found in country settings throughout the world. It is very common in Europe, Asia and Africa; less so in North and South America.

Identification

During the summer months, the plant grows from 1 to 2 meters high. The plant consists of a long, wiry stem with serrated leaves growing opposite each other.

Warning

Each stem is covered with tiny, hair-like, defensive quills. When touched, the quills will enter the skin, injecting toxins.

Effects

A nettle sting results in itching and burning in the immediate area. Reddening and minor inflammation of the skin can also occur. Nettle stings can last from a few minutes to over a week.

Prevention/Solution

To treat a nettle sting, try any of the over the counter anti-itch medications available at your local pharmacy, especially those with hydrocortisone or antihistamines.

Benefits

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, intentionally spreading nettle leaf onto the skin is sometimes used as temporary relief for the pain of arthritis or rheumatism, although evidence is weak. Young leaves from some varieties of nettle, gathered in spring, can be cooked and are rich in vitamins and minerals.