Nettles (genus Urtica
, family Urticaceae) are of considerable interest as preservatives in foods for both human and animal consumption. They have also been used for centuries in traditional medicine. This paper reviews the properties of nettles that make them suitable for wider applications in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Nettles contain a significant number of biologically-active compounds. For example, the leaves are rich sources of terpenoids, carotenoids and fatty acids, as well as of various essential amino acids, chlorophyll, vitamins, tannins, carbohydrates, sterols, polysaccharides, isolectins and minerals. Extracts from the aerial parts of nettles are rich sources of polyphenols, while the roots contain oleanol acid, sterols and steryl glycosides. Due to the variety of phytochemicals and their proportions they contain, nettles show noticeable activity against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. These properties make nettles suitable for a range of possible applications, including functional food, dietary supplements and pharmacological formulations. Despite these benefits, the nettle is still an underestimated plant source. This paper provides a unique overview of the latest research on nettle plants focusing on the possibilities for transforming a common weed into a commercial plant with a wide range of applications. Special attention is paid to the antimicrobial activity of the active compounds in nettles and to possible uses of these valuable plants in food and feed formulations.
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