Stinging Nettles


Urtica dioica, Urticaceae. Nettles is a highly revered, nutritious spring green, eaten steamed or in soups and stir-fries. The sting disappears when the leaves are cooked or dried. The greens and tea of nettles are high in minerals, vitamins, and chlorophyll, namely Vitamin A and C and calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron.  The leaves and seeds are used medicinally in teas, and as a food, for allergies, arthritis, and as kidney tonic. Nettles is a highly useful garden plant if placed wisely in the landscape. It is considered a perennial vegetable—it does not need to be planted from seed each year, but comes back from the roots year after year, making it less energy-intensive to cultivate than many annual crops.

Nettles is an herbaceous perennial; growing 3-4’ tall by indefinitely wide; full sun to part shade, rich moist soil. Zone 4-8. It will spread prolifically by runners; plant it out of the way or inside a semi-buried barrier. Try planting nettles in a wet meadow (away from human activity) or an old compost or manure pile. In some locales it will spread by seed, making containment challenging. Nettles are dynamic accumulators—a term used to describe plants with the ability to mine nutrients (such as N, K, P, Ca) from deep in the soil. These nutrients are concentrated in their leaves, and then released into the soil when the plants die or loose their leaves. Nettles can be added to compost or used as fertilizing mulch. Many gardeners make “tea” out of nettles by soaking the leaves in a bucket until fermentation occurs—the “tea” can then be used to water plants, thus fertilizing the plants, along with adding beneficial microorganisms. Nettle shoots emerge in the earliest spring, you can continually harvest the tender new growth with scissors and it will regrow, allowing for multiple harvests from the same patch.

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