Common Name: Stinging Nettle
Scientific Name: Urtica dioica
Family: Urticaceae (the Nettle family)
A harbinger of Spring, the Stinging Nettle has long been used as a food and medicinal plant. Yes, they do sting, but it is not that bad. I accidentally discovered them in my garden about a week ago when planting some garlic bulbs (see my prior article about using sprouted garlic). I was pushing some new growth back to clear a small patch of soil when I felt a sharp pain on the back of my hand. It felt like a fire ant sting, which I have had plenty of experience with growing up in south Florida. But there was no insect on my hand. I looked around and found a tiny Stinging Nettle plant a few inches tall. This meant two things… First, I needed to get some gloves. Second, it was foraging time!
I did a quick search around my neighborhood and discovered a large patch in my neighbor’s yard. I harvested a large bag full and took them home. My neighbor was happy to have me cut some of his “weeds” back. He was a bit skeptical about their being edible. I explained that the “sting” is neutralized within about 30 seconds when exposed to heat. I also showed him how you can even eat them raw, if done the right way, but he wasn’t about to try it. I took my new picked treasure home and made some Stinging Nettle and Pork Belly soup with a homemade duck stock… delicious! That same neighbor came over and tentatively tasted the soup, then proceeded to devour it, raving about how good it was. Another convert!
Now, most people would not plant these on purpose, but they often will pop up in yards, typically in rich, moist soils. If you have a larger property, you can “cultivate” them in an out of the way corner. If you have some real land, then you likely already have them growing somewhere. It is just a matter of locating them. This is when I would consider Nature Tending.
Stinging Nettle can be eaten, used for tea, used medicinally, and used to make a fiber similar to linen. They are also attractors of beneficial insects. The plants accumulate large amounts of nutrients, and if composted can be a valuable fertilizer to your garden. These are resilient and useful plants that have a poor disposition, but are worth the trouble in my opinion.