My hand is tingling as I type this because yesterday I pulled some stinging nettle without wearing gloves. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I usually make this stupid mistake once a year. I see it in the garden, I grab without thinking, and I tingle for a few hours. So far, it’s been 20-plus hours of tingling, but the antihistamine I took a bit ago seems to be working. Stinging nettle is a great example of a plant that is a weed in some contexts, a beneficial in others.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), if you have never experienced it, is an upright perennial that is covered with tiny, stinging hairs. It is a prairie plant, as are most of my weeds, and for some reason it has found a comfortable home in my raspberry patch. (It’s present in the meadow behind my house, too, but less noticeable there.) The leaves look a tiny bit like the leaves of the raspberry plant, so it is oftwn camouflaged. It’s got a four-sided stem and it can grow over 4 to 5 feet tall before it flowers in late summer.
Because it grows on rhizomes, it is hard to get it all out by hand pulling. I try to avoid using herbicides, and it’s location near a food crop, makes herbicides a non-option. If you think you may have it, check out the U of M’s description with photos.
As I was eating breakfast and thinking about my tingling hand, I happened upon a story in The Mix about the nutrition and good taste of many plants gardeners consider “weeds.” Brett Laidlow, a naturalist and forager, wrote about the salad uses of spring greens, such as dandelions. Stinging nettle has been used medicinally for generations and is said to be very tasty when cooked. Please, do not eat it uncooked — you don’t want what is on my hand in your mouth or stomach!!
Euell Gibbons was also a fan of stinging nettle, which shows that one person’s weed is another’s delicacy.
I have lots of stinging nettle, and I occasionally think about boiling some up – but so far I have resisted. What could be left after a couple of boilings? I do always think of the fairy tale where a young girls had to knit stinging nettles into shirts for her 7 brothers who had been enchanted by a wicked witch and turned into swans. Not only did she have to knit the stinging nettles, she could not speak – not a syllable or her brothers would be enchanted forever. What a brave girl!
Chris Cloutier says
I dehydrate my stinging nettle. This destroys the stingers. Then I rub it into small pieces and store it in a sealed jar. Then I can make nettle tea, which is horrible tasting but so good for your body. There are a lot of you tube videos on it’s benefits.
How can I kill them stinging nettles so they don’t keep coming back every year. Seems pulling them off the ground is not helping at all instead getting more each year.
Stinging nettle makes great pesto! You must blanch it first to get rid of stingers. Then proceed to make pesto- nice since it’s available so early.
Oh, i actually like nettles. Especially burning nettles, urtica urens… Dont touch, they feel like getting stung by hot tiny needles, then burns for 12 hours or more….
They are great for tea, liquor, and beer. They taste much better then u. dioicia…. And rubbing them on my skin feels kind of relaxing