Perennial growing to 1.2m by 1m at a fast rate.
Stinging Nettle is a herbaceous perennial, growing to 1-2 m
tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It
has very distinctively yellow, widely spreading roots. The soft
green leaves are 3-15 cm long, with a strongly serrated
margin, a cordate base and an acuminate tip. Both the leaves
and the stems are covered with brittle, hollow, silky hairs
that were thought to contain formic acid as a defence against
grazing animals; but recent research has revealed the cause of
the sting to be from three chemicals - a histamine to irritate
acetylcholine to bring on a burning sensation and serotonin to
encourage the other two chemicals (Elliott 1997). Bare skin
up against a stinging nettle plant will break the delicate defensive hairs
and release the trio of chemicals, usually resulting in a temporary
and painful skin rash
similar to poison ivy, though the nettle's rash and duration
are much weaker. It is possible, however, to evade the sting
by just touching the middle of the leaf and or stroking with
Distribution and habitat:
Woodland Garden; Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Meadow; Hedgerow.
The stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a herbaceous flowering
plant native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North
America, and is the best known member of the nettle genus Urtica.
In England the stinging nettle is the only common stinging
plant, and has found a place in several figures of speech in
the English language. To "nettle" someone is to
annoy them. Shakespeare's Hotspur urges that "out of this
nettle, danger, we grasp this flower, safety" (Henry IV,
part 1, Act II Scene 3). The common figure of speech "to
grasp the nettle" probably originated as a condensation
of this quotation. It means to face up to or take on a problem
that has been ignored or deferred. The metaphor refers to the
fact that if a nettle leaf is grasped firmly rather than brushed
against, it does not sting so readily, because the hairs
are crushed down flat and do not penetrate the skin so
easily. However the sting of nettles has been recommended to
relieve the pain of rheumatism as the effects of the sting
can last up to twelve hours. The stinging feeling becomes a
warm feeling on the area treated so helping the pain of the
rheumatism to subside.
Chlorophyll in high yields. Indoles such as histamine and serotonin.
Acetylcholine. Vitamin C and other vitamins, protein and dietary
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Edible Uses: Colouring; Curdling agent; Drink.
Young leaves - cooked as a potherb and added to soups etc.
They can also be dried for winter use. Nettles are a very valuable
addition to the diet, they are a very nutritious food that
is easily digested and is high in minerals (especially iron)
and vitamins (especially A and C). Only use young leaves (see
the notes above on toxicity) and wear stout gloves when harvesting
them to prevent being stung. Cooking the leaves, or thoroughly
drying them, neutralizes the sting, rendering the leaf safe
to eat. The young shoots, harvested in the spring when 15 -
20cm long complete with the underground stem are very nice.
Old leaves can be laxative
The plants are harvested commercially for extraction of the
chlorophyll, which is used as a green colouring agent (E140)
in foods and medicines. A tea is made from the dried leaves,
it is warming on a winters day. A bland flavour, it can be
added as a tonic
China tea. The juice of the leaves, or a decoction of the herb,
can be used as a rennet substitute in curdling plant milks.
Nettle beer is brewed from the young shoots.
Nettles have a long history of use in the home as a herbal
remedy and nutritious addition to the diet. A tea made from
the leaves has traditionally been used as a cleansing tonic
so the plant is often used in the treatment
of hay fever, arthritis, anaemia etc. The whole plant is antiasthmatic
a stimulating tonic
An infusion of the plant is very valuable in stemming internal
bleeding, it is also used to treat anaemia, excessive menstruation,
haemorrhoids, arthritis, rheumatism and skin complaints,
especially eczema. Externally, the plant is used to treat skin complaints,
arthritic pain, gout, sciatica, neuralgia, haemorrhoids, hair problems
etc. The fresh leaves of nettles have been rubbed or beaten
onto the skin in
the treatment of rheumatism etc. This practice, called urtification,
causes intense irritation to the skin as it is stung by the
nettles. It is believed that this treatment works in two ways.
Firstly, it acts as a counter-irritant, bringing more blood
to the area to help remove the toxins that cause rheumatism.
Secondly, the formic acid from the nettles is believed to have
a beneficial effect upon the rheumatic joints. For medicinal
purposes, the plant is best harvested in May or June as it
is coming into flower and dried for later use. This species
merits further study for possible uses against kidney and
urinary system ailments. The juice of the nettle can be used
as an antidote to stings from
the leaves and an infusion of the fresh leaves is healing and
soothing as a lotion for burns. The root has been shown to
have a beneficial effect upon enlarged prostate glands. A homeopathic
remedy is made from the leaves. It is used in the treatment
of rheumatic gout, nettle rash and chickenpox, externally is
applied to bruises.
; Liquid feed
A strong flax-like fibre is
obtained from the stems. Used for making string and cloth,
it also makes a good quality paper.
It is harvested as the plant begins to die down in early autumn
and is retted before the fibres
are extracted. The fibre is
produced in less abundance than from flax (Linun usitatissimum)
and is also more difficult to extract. The plant matter left
over after the fibres
have been extracted are a good source of biomass
have been used in the manufacture of sugar, starch
protein and ethyl alcohol. An oil obtained from the seeds is
used as an illuminant. An essential ingredient
of 'QR' herbal compost activator.
This is a dried and powdered mixture of several herbs that
can be added to a compost heap
in order to speed up bacterial activity and thus shorten the
time needed to make the compost.
The leaves are also an excellent addition to the compost heap
and they can be soaked for 7 - 21 days in water to make a very
plants. This liquid
feed is both insect repellent
a good foliar feed. The growing plant increases the essential
content of other nearby plants, thus making them more resistant
to insect pests. Although many different species of insects
feed on nettles, flies are repelled by the plant so a bunch
of freshly cut stems has been used as a repellent in
food cupboards. The juice of the plant, or a decoction formed
by boiling the herb in a strong solution of salt, will curdle
milks and thus acts as a rennet substitute. This same juice,
if rubbed into small seams of leaky wooden tubs, will coagulate
and make the tub watertight again. A hair wash
is made from the infused leaves and this is used as a tonic
treatment. A beautiful and permanent green dye
obtained from a decoction of the leaves and stems. A yellow
dye is obtained from the root when boiled with alum.
Dosage and recipes:
pour a cup of boiling water onto
1-3 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb and leave to infuse for
10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.
take l-4ml of the tincture three times a day.
mix with an equal amount of water
and take 1 tsp. at a time.
To 1 gallon of young Nettle tops, thoroughly washed, add
2 good-sized leeks or onions, 2 heads of broccoli or
small cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, and 1/4 lb. of rice.
Clean the vegetables well; chop the broccoli and leeks
and mix with the Nettles. Place all together in a muslin
bag, alternately with the rice, and tie tightly. Boil
in salted water, long enough to cook the vegetables,
the time varying according to the tenderness or other
vise of the greens. Serve with gravy or melted butter.
These quantities are sufficient for six persons.
Pepys refers to Nettle pudding in his Diary, February,
1661: 'We did eat some Nettle porridge, which was very
The Nettle Beer made by cottagers is often given to their
old folk as a remedy for gouty and rheumatic pains, but
apart from this purpose it forms a pleasant drink. It
may be made as follows: Take 2 gallons of cold water and
a good pailful of washed young Nettle tops, add 3 or 4
large handsful of Dandelion, the same of Clivers (Goosegrass)
and 2 OZ. of bruised, whole ginger. Boil gently for 40
minutes, then strain and stir in 2 teacupsful of brown
sugar. When lukewarm place on the top a slice of toasted
bread, spread with 1 OZ. of compressed yeast, stirred
till liquid with a teaspoonful of sugar. Keep it fairly
warm for 6 or 7 hours, then remove the scum and stir in
a tablespoonful of cream of tartar. Bottle and tie the
corks securely. The result is a specially wholesome sort
of ginger beer. The juice of 2 lemons may be substituted
for the Dandelion and Clivers. Other herbs are often added
to Nettles in the making of Herb Beer, such as Burdock,
Meadowsweet, Avens Horehound, the combination making a
refreshing summer drink.
The leaves of the plants have stinging hairs,
causing irritation to the skin.
This action is neutralized by heat or by thorough drying, so
the cooked leaves are perfectly safe and nutritious. However,
only young leaves should be used because older leaves develop
gritty particles called cystoliths which act as an irritant to