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.