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STINGING NETTLE- Urtica dioica

Updated: May 26, 2021

Urtica dioica, often known as common nettle, stinging nettle or nettle leaf, or just a nettle or stinger, is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the family Urticaceae. Originally native to Europe, much of temperate Asia and western North Africa, it is now found worldwide.

young stinging nettle plant

Stinging nettles are names after their ability to sting you when touched. They have these tiny hollow hairs all over the plant that contain droplets of formic acid, and when those hair tips pierce you, the acid is injected into your skin. This acid can burn, itch and irritate your skin for days later. The pain is tolerable, but it sure can hurt! Always wear gloves when harvesting nettles, unless you are like me and forget your gloves. That being said, I Love to harvest things by my bare hands , and nettles are no exception. Using my bare hands helps me to feel more connected to the plants that I am harvesting, and brings me that much closer to mother nature. Now, not all people are as weird as I am , so don't forget your gloves, becasue yes, they really do hurt. Even kneeling on a nettle with jeans on can produce a sting. Be careful!

Nettles can be a fantastic foraging food, and also used medicinally. The entire plant is edible, and is extremely nutritious. Cooking, and drying destroys the stinging compounds, so harvest away ! Here's a handy trick, ( I have not tried this myself yet) is that you can rub the raw fresh leaves in between 2 layers of a tea towel and this apparently removes the stingers - then you can add the leaves to salads! If you try this, please let me know in the comments !

The young shoots can be added to soups, and stews, or made into a creamy nettle soup- Yum! I love to dry my nettles and then add them to almost all of my soup and roast recipes, I have sprinkled it on roast chicken, beef, and even turkey. Nothing beats the taste of the wild in your everyday cooking!

Be careful not to eat older plants, as nettles are best to be harvested in the spring when they are young. Older plants become fibrous and gritty and contain small crystals that can cause urinary tract infections. Besides, the spring nettle hunt is were its at! So much fun to do this, It almost compares the the morel hunt in my opinion. Nothing better then walking through the bush and then you see one nettle plant, then two, then you turn around and there's an entire colony! And when there's one colony, there's hundreds!

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. The article for this information can be found here .

The great thing about nettles is that the entire plant can be used. From the tips to the roots. I like to harvest roots, but be careful - dont just harvest an entire colony including the roots, this is not sustainable and will decimate a population. When harvesting roots, take a few large plants here and there, stick to about 5% of the entire colony, this includes roots and taking just leaves or tips. Then keep moving, becasue if you found one patch, there will be many many others. To harvest just the tips, you can pinch the top or the plant and the two leaves right below the top. This will promote more bushy growth and doesn't damage the plant.

Notice the tiny leaves starting to regrow ? I pinched this tip over a week ago.

For medicinal purposes, it is best the harvest in the spring, before the end of May, before the flowers begin to form. As with many plants, once flowers start to form, most of the medicine and energy of the plant is put towards producing the flower and seeds. Plus, spring shoots are just so AMAZING!

Large nettle patch, one of the many that I have found this spring!

Nettle leaf has been said to help with the formation of hemoglobin and can aid in coagulation. Some studies have suggested that nettles depress the central nervous system, inhibits the effects of adrenaline and increases urine flow- even kills harmful bacteria!

Traditional uses of nettles have included gout, anemia, curriculation, diareah and desentry. Also painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, and today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate.

As you can see, Stinging nettleis just a truly amazing wonder of nature! This is usually true, most plants that taste bad, or hurt you in some way, are actually the best for you. Go figure! So next time you come across that nettle plant growing in your year, DONT MOW IT! Use it!

Nettles Galore!

How to identify Stinging Nettles :

Nettles are tall erect herbs, armed with stinging hairs and a 4 sides stem. Leaves are opposite of eachother and blades are narrowly lanced and shaped to oval.- with coarse saw toothed edges. Be careful though, Stinging nettle has a close cousin, called the wood nettle. Wood nettles have many of the same medicinal benefits and also have tiny stinging hairs. Laportea canadensis, commonly called Canada nettle is an annual or perennial herbaceous plant of the nettle family Urticaceae, native to eastern and central North America.

Young Wood Nettle

Stinging Nettle

Ok, i tried it yesterday. For a nutritious snack while your our foraging, rub some nettle in between your arm sleeves, my jacket was thick, so keep that in mind. After rubbing it in circles for a few rounds, this effectively disarmed the tiny stingers, and i popped it in my mouth. Delicious! And no stings.

make sure to rub it around many times to desarm the stingers or you might get one on the tounge!


*This information for educational purposes only. This blog post is not intended to cure any type of disease or replace any prescription medication you are currently taking.

Always make sure to check with your doctor before choosing herbal teas or salves for remedies, as some herbs may not work for all people and may react to certain medications.

This post is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease or illness. It is not intended to represent or replace professional medical advice or prescription medicine. It is not intended to give medical advise either. **

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