Growing Herbs- Nettle, Friend or Foe?

by Greenthumb on April 26, 2011

Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles

If you are growing herbs beyond the basic cooking herbs, you may have stumbled across nettles…and wondered about them.

Stinging nettle or Urtica dioica has a long colorful history and a wide range of uses- but it can deliver quite a sting if you don’t handle it carefully.

Why would you not want nettles growing in your herb garden?

Nettles can deliver a painful burning sting due to formic acid in the hollow needle like parts of the plant.You will want to be careful working with fresh stinging nettles.

Nettles will go crazy in your garden…IF you don’t take the flowering tops off, they can reseed all over.

So why on earth would you WANT nettles in your garden?

I can think of lots of reasons!

Stinging nettle is a great vegetable,and you can use it almost anywhere you use spinach.

Just don’t try eating them fresh. When dried,cooked, boiled, baked or sauteed the little needles completely lose their sting-rendering them…really delicious!

Nettles are packed with vitamins and minerals including iron, and both Vitamins A and C – just to name a few.

Stinging nettles have many uses in the medicinal herb garden. They also happen to be my favorite hay fever remedy! I drink cupfuls of the stuff all during the late summer and fall to help with seasonal allergies. It is good hot or iced with a spring of mint.

You don’t need a lot of room to grow nettles. They can be content in a large pot of fertile soil, but would prefer a small corner of the garden.

Nettles are great in the compost pile as an activator, and also as a wonderful liquid fertilizer! You can ‘brew’ a tea by letting several large handfuls of chopped nettles sit in a bucket for several days. Strain and use the liquid to water plants or use it as a foliar feed spray.

A few things to know about Stinging Nettle

Young Nettles

Young Nettles

Nettles should be used early in their growth period.

They can be used fresh or dried. You can cut them back and let them regrow for a second harvest.

Some herbalists recommend only using the young parts of the plant for teas and cooking since the older leaves (those that have started to flower) can contain crystals that may irritate the kidneys in sensitive people.

Flowering Nettles

Nettles Flowering

The good news is you can cut back that old growth and let them pop up again!

To dry nettles you can gather them, and hang bundles to dry.

Herbs Hanging up to dry

Herb Bundles Drying

You can also place a single layer of them on a flat surface somewhere out of direct light. Turn them over after a few days and let them continue drying. They will be ‘crisp’ to the touch when dry. Wear gloves to strip the leaves from the stems, crumble them and store them in a labeled jar. Wearing gloves will prevent you from picking up any nettle ‘splinters’ from the dried needles.

Do you think you might want to grow some now?  Nettles are one of those herbs I just can’t do without!

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This post was shared at Mind Body and Sole’s  Wildcraft Wednesday carnival.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna Mallins May 2, 2011 at 12:58 am

I think you have some very interesting points , thank you for the post!

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Flora April 27, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I grew up in the country and I can tell you I HATED nettles as a kid; they were always causing me problems. I had no idea they were edible though. That is really interesting. I wouldn’t grow them now, too many bad memories :)

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Greenthumb April 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I don’t blame you! They spread like crazy, but are really delicious! The greenhouse grew greens for a European chef in Chicago and all he wanted were what are considered weeds around here! Nettles, lambs quarter, purslane (my fav!) All are spring greens and vegetables in his homeland. Farmers around here hate that stuff :)

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