Question & Answer

Do dock leaves relieve nettle stings?

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  • Anecdotally, several “treatments” are recommended for the relief of nettle stings. These include rubbing dock leaves (Rumex obtusifolius), sage (Salvia officinalis), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), mud, or even toothpaste on the site of the sting.
  • These treatments are based on the belief that nettle stings are caused only by a biochemical reaction, resulting in a painful, inflamed skin rash.
  • The evidence suggests that nettle stings are a combination of a biochemical reaction (from an acid touching the skin) and the mechanical action of tiny hair-like spikes called “trichomes” piercing human skin, therefore treatment may be more complex than previously thought.
  • It was believed that dock leaves have an alkaline pH, which could neutralise the acid in nettle stings, however we now know that the sap from dock leaves is also acidic.
  • It may be that dock leaves were historically used to treat nettle stings based on:
    • their availability (they usually grow near nettles)
    • when dock leaves are rubbed on to a nettle sting they might cause a placebo-based distraction from the pain of the sting (i.e. the person believes the intervention will help and this belief provides a beneficial effect).

Things to Remember

  • Faulty logic “Old is better!” – Just because a treatment has been used for a long time or by many people, it does not mean that it helps or that it is safe.
  • Trust alone “It worked for me!” – If someone got better after using a treatment it does not necessarily mean that the treatment made them better. There are many other things to consider, even though they are rarely mentioned in casual conversations.
  • Just because using a treatment is associated with people getting better or worse, that doesn’t mean that the treatment made them better or worse.

Reviewers

  • Lead Researcher: Dr Sandra Galvin, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network, NUI Galway.
  • Reviewed by: Elaine Finucane, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network, School of nursing and Midwifery, NUI Galway.
  • Evidence Advisor: Prof Susan Smith, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and General Practitioner in Inchicore Family Doctors, Dublin.
  • Evidence Advisor: Casey Donaghey, PPI Ignite, NUI Galway.
  • Journalist Advisor: Dr Claire O’Connell, Contributor, The Irish Times.