Purple Dead Nettle: Not Just A Weed

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium Purpureum) is a lovely and useful herbaceous plant. It grows abundantly around our site in Southwest, Michigan and I see it popping up all over this area. It can be found throughout the US, Canada, and many other parts of the world. This hardy weed thrives in lawns, roadsides, and can grow in a variety of conditions. It is also frost tolerant. It is most commonly found growing in loamy or sandy soils, but will also do well in clay soils. It is an self-seeding annual. Each plant produces lots of seeds (it’s estimated to be several hundred to several thousand) and those seeds can germinate year round.

Purple dead nettle is considered to be an “invasive species” due to its ability to thrive and reproduce in many environments. In fact, much of the literature available on this plant is geared towards methods of eradication, including pulling up the herb to control its population. It is interesting to note that purple dead nettle seeds germinate better when the soil is disturbed. “Invasive” plants like purple dead nettle often grow in places where humans have disrupted the natural balance.  These plants are simply trying to restore equilibrium to their environment. When we pull and spray these plants we are further disturbing the areas where they grow and actually increasing their ability to return and spread.

If we care about the environment, should be be attempting to eradicate these species, like purple dead nettle, that have been determined to be invasive? Research shows that meddling with nature isn’t necessary and could cause more harm than good. Tomás Carlo, assistant professor of biology at Penn State, states that “Invasive species could fill niches in degraded ecosystems and help restore native biodiversity in an inexpensive and self-organized way that requires little or no human intervention.”In 2011, he conducted a study on how invasive species affect their ecosystems.  He found that some invasive plants actually helped improve natural areas that had deteriorated due to human use. He stated that attempting to get rid of invasive species could actually harm the newly found balance in these ecosystems. In fact, the areas he studied, for example,have actually had an increase in the native migratory bird population because the invasive plants that grow abundantly there provide an important food source that had previously been displaced by human development. Carlo also stated that trying to eliminate invasive species on a large scale could also be a waste of time and money. He explained that when organizations try to rid an ecosystem of a particular invasive plant, it often ends up growing back despite all of their efforts.

Instead of pulling and spraying these weeds, we can appreciate and utilize them. Invasive plants often play important roles in their ecosystem. For example, purple dead nettle blooms in the early spring and is an valuable food source for insects when not much else is is flowering.  Many invasive plants are also useful to humans and make wonderful food and medicine. They require little to no care as they often occur and thrive naturally in our gardens and yards. These wild edibles can be a great low-maintenance, free food source. Foraging wild greens like purple dead nettle is easier than tending to more fickle commercially grown greens and is certainly cheaper than buying organic greens at the store. If you aren’t sure how to forage purple dead nettles, visit the Edible Wild Food site for more tips on finding and identifying this plant so you too can enjoy this spring green.Always be sure you properly identify a plant before eating it! For more foraging tips, check out our post on foraging spring edibles.

Purple dead nettle can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves have tiny little hairs that some may find strange texturally, but I have found that they aren’t bothersome when the plant is cooked. The leaves taste similar to spinach. When bruised, the plant has a noticeable green, earthy scent. Purple dead nettle leaves are great source of fiber, iron, and other important nutrients. They can be used in recipes much as one would use more conventional greens like kale or spinach.

The leaves and flowers of this herb also contain anti-oxidants that help our systems to counter harmful free radicals. Our bodies are exposed to free radicals from environmental toxins, like pollution, radiation, and herbicides. These compounds reduce the amount of oxygen available to our body’s cells and breakdown collagen, thus speeding up the aging process. Adding more anti-oxidant rich foods, like purple dead nettle, to your diet can help prevent cell and tissue damage by neutralizing free radicals.

Additionally, purple dead nettle is a great source of flavanoids, specifically quercetin and vitamin C. These compounds help reduce inflammation, improve immune function, and help to control the release of histamine, a chemical released by our body that causes allergy symptoms. Eating purple dead nettle is a great way to naturally boost your system to help control allergies and inflammation.

 

The below recipe is a quick and easy way to enjoy purple dead nettle and another healthy, spring green, chickweed. If you aren’t familiar with this plant, visit Edible Wild Food’s site for more information.

If you don’t have purple dead nettle or chickweed, you can easily substitute another wild spring green of your choosing. Garlic mustard, nettle, or dandelion would all work wonderfully.

This dish makes a fast and healthful lunch or a nutritious side dish. You could also enjoy it on top of a slice of crusty bread or as a pita filling.

Garlicky Chickpeas with Purple Dead Nettle & Chickweed Greens 

This recipe makes enough for two smallish portions. It makes a perfect amount for lunch for  two people or one large entree meal. It would be easy to double the below portions to make enough to feed more people if needed. 

Ingredients:

  • 15 oz (1 can) of organic chickpeas
  • 1 large handful of chickweed greens
  • 2 large handfuls of purple dead nettle leaves, stripped from the stems
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • Freshly ground black peppercorn, to taste
  • Salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat a pan on medium. Add the coconut oil and swirl the pan to coat. Add the chickpeas, stir, and let cook for a few minutes then reduce heat a bit. Combine with garlic and a good bit of ground black pepper. Let the mixture cook a few more minutes, until the garlic is soft. 

Next, add the almond milk and dead nettle leaves and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the chickweed greens and cook until they have wilted. While the chickweed is cooking down, stir in a pinch of salt. I used this smoked sea salt from Mountain Rose Herbs. It adds a hit of sweet, smokiness and really works well with the greens. Regular sea salt will also work perfectly.

When the chickweed has cooked down a bit, give the dish one last good stir and serve it up. Enjoy your nutritious, wild crafted meal!

 

Below are a few more Purple Dead Nettle recipe ideas:

 

Purple dead nettle is not only a nutritious edible. It is also a valuable medicinal plant. It has astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, and tonic properties. Herbalist, Mrs. M Grieve, states that the bruised leaves can be used to help to stop bleeding when applied to a wound. She also recommends making a tea out of the dried herb and sweetening it with honey to promote perspiration and aid the kidneys in cases of chills. She also states that the leaves and flowers (fresh or dried) can be made into a decoction that is helpful “for checking any kind of haemorrhage.”

Purple dead nettle is also an anti-inflammatory and has pain relieving properties. Seventeenth century herbalist,  Nicholas Culpeper, stated that is useful in managing painful conditions, like gout, sciatica, and other bone and muscle pain. Studies show this plant may be useful in treating allergies and chronic inflammatory conditions because it reduces the release of a hormone in the body that is largely responsible for causing the inflammation associated with these conditions.

Purple dead nettle is antimicrobial and antifungal. In a study conducted in 2007, researchers found that extracts of this herb fought of many microorganisms that make us sick, including e.coli, candida, and staphylococcus. This is another reason that purple dead nettle may be helpful in chronic inflammatory and allergic conditions as these types of health issues weaken the body and make one more susceptible to developing secondary infections in the lungs, sinuses, and throat.

In Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, he lists many other uses for purple dead nettle, including stopping nose bleeds, aiding with menstrual issues, and dissolving tumors. He also states, “It makes the head merry, drives away melancholy, quickens the spirits.” There’s so many amazing applications for this little weed!

The anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, pain relieving, astringent, and styptic (stops bleeding) properties of purple dead nettle make it a great candidate for a multitude of health and skin care applications. It also combines well with other wild, medicinal spring herbs like comfrey, yarrow, violet, chickweed, dandelion, nettle, and plantain. Be creative with what you find growing in your yard this season! Below are a few recipes to help you get started.

 

Purple Dead Nettle Infused Oil

Oil infused with purple dead nettle can be used as a massage oil for sore, inflamed muscles or it would make a lovely addition to a salve for a variety of applications. It could also be used in a salad dressing to add some fresh, earthy notes.

Ingredients:

  • purple dead nettle
  • oil of choice – olive, coconut, almond, avocado, grapeseed, safflower, etc.

Directions:

Pick desired amount purple dead nettle tops (leaf, stem & flower). Give them a quick rinse in a strainer or colander. Shake them well to get rid of extra water. Lay them out on a towel til they are no longer wet then lay out on a counter or tabletop for about 12 hours to get rid of the plants’ moisture. This is to help prevent your oil from going rancid.

Chop the wilted herb and fill a pint jar (or larger if desired) about halfway full with it. Cover in oil of choosing. I like the versatility of olive oil, but also love coconut oil. Other options include, safflower, sunflower, almond, and avocado oils. Don’t fill the jar too full so there is room for expansion and make sure the herbs are covered by an inch of oil.

If you need your oil for use in the near future, use the following method for infusing your oil.

Heat Method for Infusing Oils – stove top with DIY double boiler

Put a small amount of water into the bottom of a pot or pan. Set your glass jar (make sure it is one that can handle the heat) in the pot/pan and bring to a gentle boil. Keep at very low heat for 4-8 hours. The oil is ready when it takes on the color and scent of the herb being infused. You will need to add more water during this process as it will cook off during the infusing process. To do so, remove the jar and add hot water from the sink to the pan. Return the pan to the stove and the jar to the pan. Repeat as needed until the oil has been thoroughly infused.

Heat Method for Infusing Oils -Crockpot

You can also use your crock pot for infusing herbal oils. Just add a small amount of water to the pot and set your glass jar in the bottom. Put on a low setting  and let simmer for 6-12 hours. The length of time will vary based on your crock pot, but I tend to find that oils take longer to infuse in my crockpot than on the stove because I  use the lowest setting. You may need to add more water throughout the process, so be sure to check on it every so often.

When the oil is finished, remove the jar from the pan and let it cool. Then strain the herbs out using a cheesecloth (be sure to squeeze excess oil out of herbs) and compost them. Bottle the oil and add a few drops of vitamin E oil to help lengthen its shelf life. I generally only add the vitamin E oil when making infused oil from fresh herbs (they have a higher moisture content and are thus, more likely to go rancid.) Store the oil in a cool place out of direct sunlight.

Solar Infused Oil Method

If you don’t need to use your oil right away, you can infuse it with solar energy over a longer period of time. To infuse your oil this way, screw a lid onto the top of the jar you have just filled with oil & herbs. Make sure the lid is on tight and give the jar a good shake. Set it on a warm, sunny window sill and shake it daily. After 4-6 weeks, strain out the herbs using a cheesecloth (be sure to squeeze excess oil out of herbs) and compost them. Add a drop of vitamin E oil, if desired. Store the oil in a cool place that is out of direct sunlight.

Springtime Toning Tea

This lovely fresh tea has a delightful green, earthy flavor. It combines three of my favorite early spring herbs into one great health boosting tea. The blend is perfect for addressing a variety of springtime woes, including allergies, skin irritations, and the muscle pain that can be a result of our increase of activity after the long winter months.

Stinging nettle and violet contribute many wonderful medicinal qualities to this tea . For more information about the health benefits of violets, check out this post I wrote about them earlier this spring. I could go on about the benefits of stinging nettle for days, but to keep it short: they also help to reduce pain and inflammation, stop bleeding, and help to reduce symptoms associated with hay fever. They can also be used to treat kidney problems, hypertension, skin problems, menstrual issues, and much more.

I often make tea in a quart sized Mason jar. I just put the herbs in the bottom of the jar, pour in the water, and screw on the lid.  I generally just put a few sprigs of each type of nettle and a handful of violet leaves and flowers into a quart jar. You can add more or less herbs depending on how strong you like your tea.

Ingredients:

  • 1 part fresh purple dead nettle, leaf & flower
  • 1 part fresh violet, leaf & flower
  • 1 part fresh stinging nettle, leaves & stems
  • honey, to taste
  • water

Directions:

Combine herbs in a jar or pot. Pour boiling water over herbs and cover container. Let infuse for 20-45 minutes. Add honey to taste. Enjoy your warm, earthy beverage.

 

Purple Dead Nettle & Yarrow Wound Powder

This wound powder highlights the antimicrobial, antifungal, pain relieving, and styptic properties of purple dead nettle. Yarrow also helps to stop bleeding, reduces risk of infection, and promotes healing of wounds. The combination of these powerful spring herbs makes for a great styptic powder for cuts and scrapes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 part purple dead nettle flower & leaf, dried and powdered
  • 1 part yarrow leaf, dried and powdered

Directions:

Combine the powders in a small lidded or shaker topped container. Keep in your medicine cabinet or first aid kit. Sprinkle on wounds to cleanse and help stop bleeding.

 

Other wonderful ways to use purple dead nettle:

  • salve
  • infused witch hazel extract
  • tincture
  • poultice
  • infused vinegar

 

Enjoy wandering through your yard and garden in search of this lovely little plant. I hope you have fun crafting many wonderful meals and other concoctions with it. If you have an amazing way to use purple dead nettle, we’d love to hear about it. Happy foraging!

 

Resources:

“Nettle, Purple Dead.” A Modern Herbal: Volume 2. Dover Publications. 580-581.

“Nettle, Lesser.”  A Modern Herbal: Volume 2. Dover Publications. 579.

“Archangel.” Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. http://www.complete-herbal.com/culpepper/archangel.htm

“Purple Dead Nettle.” Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. http://chestnutherbs.com/185/

“Purple Dead Nettle.” Edible Wild Food. http://www.ediblewildfood.com/purple-deadnettle.aspx

“Invasive Plants Can Create Positive Ecological Change.” Penn State Science. http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2011-news/Carlo2-2011

“Purple Dead Nettle and Allergies.” Joel Le Blanc. July 31, 2015. http://www.livestrong.com/article/485502-purple-dead-nettle-and-allergies/

“Free Radicals Explained.” Holistic Health Tools. http://www.holistichealthtools.com/free_radicals.html

“Love Your Weeds: Red Deadnettle” https://theresagreen.me/tag/medicinal-uses-of-red-deadnettle/

“Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum).” Garry Oak Ecosystems. http://goert.ca/documents/Lamium-purpureum.pdf

Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World. U.P. Hendrick. The Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. 369.

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