Stinging nettle is a plant that you may or may not have had the pleasure to come across. It likes moist and nutrient rich soils so when you walk along a river or a stream you may have been unfortunate enough to rub up against one. Little hairs on this plant create a stinging or burning sensation when it comes into contact with your skin.
Regardless of the painful nature of this plant people still eat it, use it for medicine, and make fabric and rope from its fibers. However, one should still be cautious of this plant especially with dogs as hunting dogs have died from extreme exposure to the plant.
It was once believed that if you pull up stinging nettles by their roots while calling a sick person’s name it would drive away a fever.
Nettle is native to North America but a different species was brought over from the U.K. Both plants are so similar that they are hard to differentiate but luckily they can be interchangeable. There are some other species of nettle including “false” nettle and wood nettle. You will want to familiarize yourself with the different species if you plan to go out and harvest some.
Common Name: Stinging Nettle
Scientific Name: Urtica dioica
Flower- Small and clustered, green-white
Leaves- Bright-Dark green, opposite, saw-toothed edges, rounded or heart-shaped, 2-6 inches in length, hairs on the underside
Stem- 3-6 feet tall, square cross section, covered with bristly hairs
Growing Time: Spring-Autumn
Harvest Time: Spring-Summer, best before flowering
Parts Edible: Leaves, stems, roots
Found: Damp, nutrient-rich soil; pastures, neglected yards, waste places, roadsides, floodplains, stream and river banks, tolerates partial shade. Found throughout the U.S., Europe, and parts of Asia.
-First used for cloth
-Traditionally used as a cleansing tonic and blood purifier
-Slapped paralyzed limbs with fresh bunches of nettle, called urication
-One of the Anglo-Saxon 9 powerful herbs, combated “evils”
-Tyroleans would throw nettle into a fire to protect themselves from lightning during a storm
-Native American would make twine, rope, and fishing nets out of nettle as well for medical uses
-Have been used historically to treat arthritis, eczema, and relieve sore muscles
Vitamins, Minerals, & More
-High in protein and fiber
-Contains vitamins A & C
– Aerial parts (parts above ground) may have anti-inflammatory properties
-Both the root and leaf have diuretic (makes you pee) properties but are each used to treat different things
-Infusion of fresh leaves can soothe a burn
-Aerial parts have been used to treat allergies and hay fever
-The whole plant has been used to treat asthma and stimulate hair growth
-The aerial parts of the plants have astringent properties used to treat joint and muscle pains
-Plant repels flies
-Leaves dried for tea
-Leaves used in infusions
-Leaves are cooked or boiled for meals
-Leaves and stem used to create a green dye
-Roots are used to create a yellowish dye
-Available in capsule form
-Root is made into a tincture
-The leaves and stems have little hairs that contain toxins that cause skin irritation
-Could interfere with blood-thinning drugs
-Do not use stinging nettle if pregnant or nursing.
-Nettle can increase urine production so speak with your doctor first is you have kidney or bladder issues
-Talk to your doctor before using stinging nettle if on:
- Drugs for high blood pressure
- Drugs for diabetes
Be careful when harvesting stinging nettle. Wear gloves and long clothing to avoid being “stung.” After the plant has been dried or cooked it no longer has a stinging effect. Harvest the tops of the plant or the first 4-6 leaves.
For medicinal properties, harvest early on before the nettles start to flower.
Treating Stinging Nettle
If you are “stung” by stinging nettle you can wait out the discomfort, which could last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. It is said that the juice from the crushed leaves of dock, jewelweed, and even stinging nettle can sooth the discomfort.
Practicing Sustainable Wild Harvesting
- Only harvest plants you know are safe and can identify
- Only harvest plants in safe areas that are not contaminated or polluted
- Do not harvest on private property without permission
- Harvest no more than 10% or use the method: take 1 leave 2
- Know how to handle and prepare the plants you are harvesting
- Always check the legal status of the plant you want to harvest (is it endangered?)
Urtica dioica – L.
Urtica dioica L. stinging nettle
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
SPECIES: Urtica Dioica
Kowalchik, Claire, and William H. Hylton. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 1998. 471-73. Print.
Disclaimer: All information provided is for education purposes only. I am not a doctor. If you wish to have advice on a medical problem, please consult a doctor. I cannot guarantee that any information provided will work for every person. Please consult a doctor before making any health changes.
Photos © Morgan Pencek, all rights reserved