Stinging Nettles: Multipurpose Superplant

Jul 30, 2018
Stinging Nettle

Young nettles emerging in the raspberry patch.

Margaret Boyles


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You’ll know if you accidentally run into a patch of stinging nettles.

When you brush against them with bare skin, the delicate, needle-like hairs that cover their stems and leaves break off and inject you with irritating chemicals that feel like a host of wasp stings.

But if you do suffer such encounter, count your lucky stars. Guard the spot carefully. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a plant of a thousand uses—nutritious food, medicine, tea herb, cheese-flavoring agent, beer, herbal fiber for weaving, fertilizer, dyestuff, laydybug attractant, important food source for butterfly larvae.

Although alarmed when I first found nettles running amok in my raspberry patch, I’ve found the job of preventing them from taking over furnishes me with good foraging every spring.

I’ve since found a much larger wild patch a few miles down the road. I keep that spot a secret.

Eating Nettles

Young nettles rank among the yummiest, most nutritious of green vegetables. Light cooking eliminates the sting. A rich source of calcium, iron, magnesium and other minerals, and of
vitamins C, A and B complex, they also contain more protein than other green vegetables (dried leaves are 25 percent protein).

Cook them like spinach as a side dish; turn them into delicious pesto; or add them to soups and quiches. You can freeze or dry them the way you would spinach or parsley.

For the best eating, pick the top three or four set of leaves while the plants are just a few inches tall. To harvest stinging nettles without getting stung, wear long sleeves and rubber or leather gloves. Rinse them well in a colander, remove any debris, and wear kitchen gloves if you plan to chop them.

Natural Remedies with Nettles

For centuries, nettles have served traditional cultures as medicine to treat a variety of ills. Dried nettle leaves and roots make both delicious tea and a nourishing hair rinse. An infusion of stinging nettles is also known to help treat sunburns.

Gardeners have long used fermentations of nettle leaves to fertilize and protect crops.

Dairy farmers use nettles as a flavoring ingredient (or wrapper) for gourmet cheeses.

And some hearty souls enjoy tipping a pint of nettle beer, perhaps along with a savory dish of nettle pasta.

Another innovation you may find soon at your local trendy clothing boutique: clothing made from nettle fibers.

Be Nice to Nettles Week

The wise Brits of the Cramlington Organization for Nature and the Environment so value the role of the nettle in the natural world, that they sponsor a Be Nice To Nettles Week.

And if you have bit of a moist, rich soil lying fallow and find a patch of nettles going to seed, perhaps you’d like to create your own backyard nettle patch.

About This Blog

"Living Naturally" is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that's good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, and ideas to make your home a healthy, safe haven. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

Reader Comments

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I use stinging nettle pills for allergies. I am franky stunned there was no mention of them being used in this way because it is the most gentle and effective allergy remedy I have ever tried.

I am an EMT, and I also am a

I am an EMT, and I also am a home health nurse. I have a severe problem with recurring kidney stones. I read that making tea from fresh picked stinging nettle leaves helps clear up kidney stones... i am willing to try ANYTHING as i have passed 3 in the last 5 days. I would pay a million dollars to find them. Or buy some fresh!!!! My email is included.. :'(

I'm not a medical

I'm not a medical professional or herbalist, Angela, though I have read that nettles have a history of use in urinary-tract and other problems. Make sure you check with your own healthcare provider.

You might try growing your own fresh nettles (, buying dried-nettle tea or capsules, or even buying some fresh

Good luck!

Nettles are surprisingly rare

Nettles are surprisingly rare in my area (argh) so I have to resort to drying them until I have enough to do anything. Would it still be possible to make this using dried leaves or will they lose something important in the dehydration process?

Dried nettles make a nice

Dried nettles make a nice tea; you could also crumble them and sprinkle them into a soup.

As for "losing something" in the drying process, constituents such as vitamin C, might be reduced; more heat-stable phytocompounds might increase.

By the way, if you dare, you can easily get nettle seeds to grow your own:

I'd cut the seedheads before the seed matures, since nettles are notoriously aggressive, spreading via both underground rhizomes and thousands of tiny seeds, especially if they fall onto rich, moist soil.

I got into a patch of

I got into a patch of stinging nettles a few years ago when weeding my garden. The description above of feeling like I had walked into a hornets nest is right on. Luckily I also grow Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). I broke a piece off one of my plants and rubs the sap all over the abrasion. I stopped the stingging right away but I was left with the numbing sensation in my hand for 2 or 3 days.

I find the tips for using

I find the tips for using local vegetation very interesting, and would like to try my hand at it.


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