Stinging nettle, or simply nettle, is an herbaceous perennial used in folk medicine to treat urinary tract ailments, hayfever, allergies and arthritis. It is also used as a source of medicine, food and fiber.
Nettle Urtica dioica, also know as common nettle, is a herbaceous perennial in the family Urticaceae. The name urtica cames from the Latin “urure” and means to burn.
Native to Europe, western North America, northern Africa and much of Asia, stinging nettle is found in every province and state of Canada and the United States except for Hawaii. It is particularly abundant in the Pacific Northwest.
Medicinal use of stinging nettle
From May to June, herbalists use the above ground parts of stinging nettle as a wild vegetable and an herbal tea to treat kidney and urinary tract ailments. These ailments include too frequent and/or painful urination, inability to urinate, urinary tract inflammation, urinary tract irritation and kidney stones. They also use it to treat allergies, hay fever and osteoarthritis.
October to March is the best time to use roots to treat prostate complaints and joint ailments. Nettle root is also a diuretic and an astringent.
Culinary use of stinging nettle
When cooked, stinging nettle tastes similar to spinach. It is a wonderful source of nutrients in early spring when other food plants are scarce. To safely eat it, soak the nettle in water or cook it like spinach to remove the stinging hairs. Only the young top leaves should be used. Nettle is also tasty when pureed, and added to pesto or polenta. Nettle soup is flavorful and common in northern and eastern Europe where it is used for cleansing the body.
Nettle leaves should be harvested only before the flower shoots appear. While flowering, nettle produces a chemical that can irritate the urinary tract.
The seeds are a delicacy when roasted and another nutritious choice in Fall.
Nutritional value of stinging nettle
Stinging nettle is a very nutritious vegetable. It contains per 100 grams:
- 740 µg vitamin A (carotin)
- 630 mg calcium
- 410 mg potassium
- 333 mg vitamin C
- 105 mg phosphorus
- 71 mg manganese
- 7.8 mg iron
- 5.9 g protein
Chemical content of stinging nettle
- Up to 20% mineral content (iron, silicid acid, phosphorus, manganese, calcium and potassium)
- Vitamins A, C, B2, B5, E and K
- Organic acids (acetic acid, formic acid)
- Unsaturated fat
- Phytosterol (plant sterol that reduces blood cholesterol and may inhibit lung, stomach, ovarian and breast cancers
- Urtica dioica agglutinin (a plant lectin that behaves like a superantigen)
- 3-ß-Sitosterol (a plant sterol that reduces benign enlargement of the prostate and blood cholesterol).
- Essential fatty acids
- Phytohormones (plant hormones that may suppress cancer cell growth)
Treating the stings
When in contact with the skin, stinging nettle causes an uncomfortable burning sensation. To reduce the discomfort and treat the itching, use the juice of greater plantain or dock leaves. Gather several clean leaves, crush them in your hands than squeeze them in between your fingers and let the juice drip on the affected area. Rub the squeezed leaves in on the stung skin.
Benefits of stinging nettle to wildlife
Stinging nettle growth is encouraged in some countries because it supports over 40 species of insects. Nettles are the exclusive larval food of the tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies. The larvae of many moths also eat stinging nettle.
For this reason, it is important to be conscious while foraging in the wild for nettle. Only take what you need and leave plenty for other people and wildlife.
Benefits of stinging nettle to the garden
Nettle is very useful in the vegetable garden. It attracts beneficial insects. It is also an indicator of fertilized or over fertilized soil, especially high levels of phosphate and nitrogen in the soil.
Nettle is a wonderful companion plant to fruit trees, particularly apple, pear and plum trees. Since it spreads by rhizomes and seeds, it can be invasive and troubling in a home garden. So contain its growth by regularly tilling the beds and pruning the plant. Or plant it in a large flower pot. Use the cut off plant parts as food, medicine and fertilizer. The nitrogenous compounds of nettle make it a good compost activator. As a liquid fertilizer, it supplies magnesium, sulfur and iron to the soil.