The Incredible Nettle


Nettle (Urtica dioica), also known as Stinging Nettle, is a lovely plant that is is a favorite if many an herbalist (including myself!). It sometimes gets a bad reputation because its stems and leaves are covered in small, sharp spurs that can cause severe irritation and pain on areas of skin that come in contact with the plant. However, despite its sting, nettle is a valuable wonderful medicinal and a tasty, nutritious edible. There’s much to love about this wonderful herb!

Nettle grows in temperate regions all over the world. The entire plant can be utilized for food or medicine. Young nettle leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach. (Old plants may cause kidney damage when eaten raw.) Nettle is a valuable edible, as it is an excellent source of vitamins- including A, C, D and K- and minerals, like choline, lecithin, silica, and iron. The aerial parts are utilized for teas and tinctures and the roots are medicinal.

For some tasty ideas of how to add more nettle to your diet, check out these recipes:

Note: If eating nettles sounds a little dangerous to you, never fear – the plant loses its sting once it is dried or cooked. But, you may want to wear gloves while harvesting nettle and preparing any recipes with nettle to avoid getting stung during those processes. 

Nettle Beer from The Herbal Academy

Nettle Garlic Buttermilk Biscuits from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog

Stinging Nettle Spanikopita from Join Me For Dinner

Nettle Pesto Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes from The Bojon Gourmet

Nettle Chips from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog

Stinging Nettle Lasagna from Learning Herbs

Ali Baba’s Savory Stinging Nettle Muffins from Palachink

Garlic Cream & Nettle Pizza from Food & Wine

Wild Weed Frittata from Mountain Rose Herbs Blog

Nettle-Mushroom Pie with Pine Nuts from Voodoo & Sauce

Stinging Nettle Ravioli with Butter & Sage from La Tavola Marche

Hungry for more ways to enjoy nettle? Check out these 12 stinging nettle recipes from The Herbal Academy.

In addition to being a delicious and healthful edible, nettle is also a wonderful medicinal plant. It is a general toning herb that strengthens and nourishes the whole body, balances metabolic function, and improves circulation. It has been used traditionally as a cleansing herb because of its ability to aid elimination of waste from the body.

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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.

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