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BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 19 September 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:826

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Alternative treatment of joint pains with stinging nettle

Editor - We were interested to read comments in Minerva, BMJ issues
on 8 August and 19th September1, concerning attitudes towards alternative
and complementary medicine. We would urge doctors to keep an open mind
about alternative therapies. Surely most accepted modern treatments began
life as an ‘alternative therapy'? Recently we have been researching the
traditional ‘alternative' remedy of stinging nettle (urtica dioica)
treatment for arthritis.

In November 1994 the author (CR) reported two patients using nettle
stinging (urtication) to treat their arthritic pains2. Since then a
review of the plant / folk-lore literature has confirmed the world wide
use of nettles for arthritic pain dating back to Roman times 3,4. This
prompted our survey of the present use of nettles in South West England.

Following local press reports of our research interest 18 respondents
contacted the Department of Primary Health Care & General Practice of
Plymouth University and consented to be interviewed. 17 in-depth semi-
structured interviews were carried out in their own homes and one was
interviewed on the telephone. Tape recordings of interviews were
transcribed, and analysed using a grounded theory approach5.

17 patients reported that nettle sting (urtication) relieved or
greatly reduced their joint pains, but one patient reported no
improvement. The only reported side effects were localised stinging and
rash. Many patients expressed anxiety that they would be laughed at by
doctors for using nettles, and only six out of 18 patients had told their
own doctor they were using nettle treatment. However most were keen to
tell relatives and friends about it.

These findings, although anecdotal and retrospective, suggest further
research is indicated, and a random controlled trial in collaboration with
a Rheumatologist is in progress.

Colin Randall Frank Dobbs.
Honorary Researcher Head of Department, Senior Lecturer
Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice
Plymouth Postgraduate Medical School
University of Plymouth
Plymouth PL4 8AA

Kevin Meethan
Senior Lecturer
Department of Sociology
University of Plymouth.

1. Minerva. Comments on attitudes to Alternative and Complementary
BMJ 1998;317:826. (19 September.)
2. Randall C,. Treatment of osteoarthritis with stinging nettle.(Letter)

Br J Gen Pract 1994;44:533-534.
3. Duke J. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus Pennsylvania: Rodale, 1997.
4. Mabey R. Flora Britannica. London: Sinclair Stevenson, 1996.
5. Strauss A, Corbin J. Basics of Qualitative Research: grounded theory
procedures and techniques. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1990.

Competing interests: No competing interests

01 October 1998
Colin Randall