Nettle

Nettle plant (Urtica dioica)
A very common weed that is very easy to identify, Stinging Nettle is in fact a nutritive superfood with valuable medicinal properties. One of the most abundant greens to forage in Spring.

Table of Contents

Nettle: Plant profile

Common names

Stinging Nettle, Common Nettle, Nettle Leaf, Neantóg

Botanical name

Urtica dioica

Plant family

Urticaceae (Nettle)

Distribution

Native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa and North America. Introduced elsewhere. Widespread in the UK and Ireland.

Where to find Stinging Nettle

Woodland edges, wasteland and hedgerow banks.

When to find Stinging Nettle

Young leaves early to late spring and second growth early to mid-autumn.

How to identify Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle is an upright herbaceous perennial growing up to 1 m. The leaves are triangular with very serrated edges  and are dull green in colour. These grow in pairs on opposite sides of the stalk. The flowers (both female and male) are discreet, catkin-like with no petals and green in colour. The seeds are very similar to the flowers and also grow in clusters. The entire plant is covered in tiny stinging hairs.

Nettle lookalikes

Other plants in the Nettle family may look similar.White Deadnettle (Lamium album) are remarkably similar, though these have visible white flowers and do not sting. It’s also edible.

Nettle plant (Urtica dioica)

All about Stinging Nettle

One of the most abundant plants you can find in the wild, Nettles are broadly associated with places of human habitation. They are often considered an unwanted invader in gardens and allotments, where the soil is fertile and the land is barely neglected.

Nettles are one of the first spring greens to poke through the soil, as early as February, rising from a creeping, underground network of rhizomes that grow with liberal enthusiasm to quickly colonise vast areas.

Sure they sting. The plant has fine hairs on the leaves and stems that contain irritating chemicals, which are released when the plant comes in contact with the skin. However once nettles have been boiled, they are totally harmless.

Medicinal properties of Nettles

This fantastic superfood is much underestimated, as it’s is rich in iron, protein and vitamins A, B and C.

Nettles have a long history of medicinal usage to treat arthritis and rheumatic problems.

It also has haemostatic and circulatory properties and it’s used to reduce blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, as well as excessive menstruation and haemorrhoids.

Culinary uses and recipes with Nettles

Leaves are edible, preferably young. It has a particular flavour which is a bit neutral. They are used as a vegetable leaf in many recipes as a substitute of spinach in omelettes, risottos, curries, quiches and tarts.

The most popular country recipes include Nettle & potato soup and Nettle ‘pesto‘.

Nettle herbal tea is not for everyone, but it’s considered a medicinal drink.

Nettle seeds haging from the plant (Urtica dioica)

Safe foraging of Stinging Nettle

Stining Nettle must be collected using gloves. The leaves of the plant have stinging hairs that contain droplets of histamine and formic acid, whch causes irritation to the skin. This action may be neutralised by heat or by drying the plant completely, therefore making the plant safe to handle and edible.

Certain drugs may interact with Stinging Nettle. Avoid during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.

Ecological importance of Stinging Nettle

The stinging hairs protect Nettles from grazing animals. This makes the ideal habitat for a number of insects and other invertebrates. They hold overwintering aphids, which in turn provide a food source for ladybirds.

The plant is often an indicator of nitrogen content in the soil.

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Alvaro Docio

Alvaro Docio

I am the person behind British Local Food. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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2 thoughts on “Nettle”

  1. Is there a time of year to avoid picking the leaves for food?
    I seem to recall something about ‘older’ nettle leaves causing an issue…
    Hoping you can clarify this.

    Reply
    • Hi Janie,
      Several sources state that older nettle leaves develop cystoliths, which interfere with normal kidney function.
      It’s generally advised to avoid picking the leaves once the plant blooms.

      Reply

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