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Considered a weed by many gardeners, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a highly nutritious and delicious plant that you could forage or even grow for yourself in your backyard.
Sure, when a plant has the word ‘stinging’ in its name, it does not fill one with much love or desire to want to be around it. And, it’s not an exaggeration that this plant really can sting you.
The underside of the leaves and stems of the stinging nettle plant has many tiny hairs. When they are brushed up against, they break from the plant and penetrate the skin injecting a toxin. This toxin is made up of acetylcholine, formic acid, histamine, and serotonin and causes raised itchy bumps. Unless someone has a severe allergic reaction, this is not too terrible and goes away fairly quickly for most people.
When working with stinging nettles, it is advised to use thick gloves to protect you from the stingers!
With the horror stories behind us, let’s look at the benefits of this impressive plant and how you can grow and harvest it for yourself.
Are Stinging Nettles Good for Me?
Source: Learn Your Land/YouTube
Stinging nettle is thought to be one of the most nutrient-dense foods we can eat. It is especially rich in vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant in the body. As well it is also a good source of vitamins A, K, and several B vitamins. Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium are present in stinging nettles. Stinging nettles also contain all of the essential amino acids.
Stinging nettle has long been used as a medicinal plant. You will find stinging nettle in detox tea blends. Some research suggests that it is a natural anti-inflammatory. This plant may work as a natural diuretic and may have wound-healing properties.
Rest assured that once the plant has been cooked, steeped in boiling water, or dehydrated, any danger of being stung goes away. It can then be consumed safely. Use nettles to make herbal tea or soup, or treat them like you would any other cooked culinary green such as spinach or collards.
Are Stinging Nettles Good for My Garden?
Those nutrients that we enjoy from nettles can also be used by other plants in your garden. Carefully use stinging nettles to make a green manure fertilizer for other plants. Make a giant pot of cold nettle tea that you will leave steeping in a bucket for about a month. The strained liquid can then be used as a liquid fertilizer. You can also carefully cut stinging nettles down and lay them around the base of trees and other shrubs. There, they can decompose naturally and add nutrients to the soil.
Nettles are especially important to certain breeds of butterflies, and they are a favorite of ladybugs. Nettles can also act as a deterrent plant by luring aphids and caterpillars away from your prized veggie patch.
How Can I Grow Stinging Nettles?
Source: Great Escape Farms/YouTube
Stinging nettle is a herbaceous perennial that spreads by runner and seeds. Be sure to plant it in a spot that doesn’t receive too much traffic. You don’t want folks brushing their ankles up against it multiple times a day! Ouch!
Once mature, it has a spread of about 3 feet, and it can reach between 3-7 feet tall. Help prevent it from spreading by deadheading the flowers to stop them from self-seeding and dig up any unwanted spread at the root.
If you know of a patch of nettles that you can safely and legally harvest from, you can separate the plant at the roots in the same way as you would for plants in the mint family. You may also start your plants from seeds. Sow seeds directly in the garden or start them indoors a few weeks before the last frost.
Once you have your plants, choose a spot that gets full sun and has moist loamy soil. Though, as a ‘weed,’ it is fairly self-sufficient and doesn’t require too much fuss.
Mature plants are reasonably drought tolerant, but give them a watering if the soil feels too dry.
So, have a go at starting a stinging nettle patch in your backyard, and let yourself, the bugs, and your garden reap the rewards.
- How to Forage for Stinging Nettles
- Foraged Nettle Soup
- Foraged Food Recipes for Spring
- Food for Free: Foraging for Spring Greens
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