Native to the Northern Hemisphere, Stinging Nettle has long been used for medicine and food. It has been introduced around the world, and is now seen more as a weed than a beneficial plant.
- The sting from Stinging Nettles comes from their stinging hairs, called trichomes. Stinging Nettles are covered with hairs, but not many are actually the stinging hairs. These stinging hairs are on the underside of the leaves and on the stems. When touched, the tip of the hair is displaced, and what is left resembles a hypodermic needle. This needle will inject chemicals that cause itching, irritation, and pain.
- Stinging Nettles inject histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, morodin, leukotrienes, and formic acid (formic acid give fire ants their “fire”).
- Stinging Nettle leaves can be eaten raw… just hold the leaf only on the top side, fold it over on itself to cover the stinging hairs on the underside of the leaf, roll it up, squeeze it a bit to make sure the stinging hairs are all crushed, then take a bite. Yes, I have done this. No, I did not get stung. Yes, it tastes good!
- Exposing Stinging Nettle to heat for about 30 seconds (like boiling water for tea or soup) neutralizes the sting, as does drying the leaves
- There are many species in the genus Urtica that are likely all edible, but check with local experts before you start foraging for other species.