Traditional and Modern Use of Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle is a surprisingly helpful plant in food and medicine despite its stinging hairs, as seen below.

Common Name

Stinging Nettle

Scientific Name

Urtica dioica

Family

Urticaceae

Botanical Description

An upright plant with dull green, serrated leaves, covered with stinging hairs. The flowers are small, green and catkin-like with no petals.

Status

Perennial. Native.

Habitat

Grows in deciduous woodland, coniferous woodland, cultivated land, grassland, hedgerows, meadow, mountains, river banks, roadsides, scrub, wasteland

Parts Used For Food

Leaves, flowers, seeds, stems, shoots.

Harvest Time

Spring to autumn.
Stinging Nettle Notebook

Food Uses

The shoots and leaves – were traditionally picked as a spring tonic. Nettle ‘pudding’ or ‘porridge’ was eaten in parts of Britain as a ‘pick-me-up after the winter’.1 Modern research has revealed that nettle contains vitamin C and iron (see nutritional profile below) which explains its use as a spring vegetable. Cooking the plant, even briefly, destroys the stinging hairs and makes nettle safe to eat.2 Today, nettle is also a popular herbal tea.

Nutritional Profile

Full of vitamins A, C and some B vitamins. Fresh nettles contain (per 100g) 670 mg potassium, 590 mg calcium, 18 mcg chromium, 270 mcg copper, 86 mg magnesium, and 4.4 mg iron.3

Stinging Nettle Recipes

Herbal Medicine Uses

Nettle was considered to be a ‘warming’ herb because of its stinging hairs. This made it a popular treatment for rheumatism and other conditions such as sciatica that benefit from rubbing a stinging plant on the body to stimulate circulation. Roman soldiers famously rubbed their bodies with nettle to promote good circulation and to stay warm.4

Other Uses

Nettle was often woven into cloth for household use – a practice dating back to the Bronze Age.

Cautions

Nettle’s most unpleasant effect is its stinging hairs, which can cause more severe itching and swelling in some people. Opinion varies on its use as a medicinal herb, so seek advice from a medical professional. Avoid during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.

About The Author

Robin HarfordRobin Harford is a plant-based forager, ethnobotanical researcher, and wild food educator. He is the author of Plantopedia: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants.

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References

  1. Hatfield, G. Hatfield’s Herbal. Allen Lane, Penguin Books. London. 2007.
  2. Thayer, S. The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing. Forager’s Harvest Press. Bruce, Wisconsin. 2006.
  3. Kress, Henriette. Practical Herbs. Yrtit ja yrttiterapia Henriette Kress. 2011.
  4. De Cleene, M. Lejeune, MC. Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe. Vol II: Herbs. Man & Culture Publishers. Belgium. 2003.

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  1. I use them as a substitute for spinach in practically every recipe, free, more nutritious and they taste fantastic. Just pick above dog pee level !!

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