Urtica dioica (Urticaceae) is a plant principally used in the traditional medicine of oriental Marocco as antihypertensive remedy (J. Ethnopharmacol., 58 (1997), 45). The aim of this work was to evaluate a possible direct cardiovascular action of the plant and to investigate its mechanism of action. In aortic preparations with intact and functional endothelial layer, pre-contracted with KCl 20 mM or norepinephrine 3 microM, the crude aqueous and methanolic extracts of the plant roots, as well as purified fractions elicited a vasodilator action. Nevertheless, the vasodilator activity was not present in aortic rings without endothelial layer. In aortic rings with intact endothelial layer, the vasorelaxing effect was abolished by L-NAME, a NO-biosynthesis inhibitor, and ODQ, a guanylate cyclase inhibitor. Furthermore, potassium channel blockers (TEA, 4-aminopyridine, quinine, but not glybenclamide) antagonized the vasodilator action of the purified fraction F1W of U. dioica. The same fraction produced a marked decrease of inotropic activity, in spontaneously beating atria of guinea-pig, and a marked, but transient, hypotensive activity on the blood pressure of anaesthetized rats. It is concluded that U. dioica can produce hypotensive responses, through a vasorelaxing effect mediated by the release of endothelial nitric oxide and the opening of potassium channels, and through a negative inotropic action.