Stinging Nettles: The Green that Bites Back!

| 2/22/2012 10:32:25 AM

Tags: gardening, nettles, wild edibles, wildcrafting, greens, Carolyn Evans-Dean,

Stinging Nettles 

As a kid, I remember working out behind the barn. I was tasked with the removal of the stinging nettles that grew there. Despite the long pants and rubber gloves that I wore, I always managed to get stung by them somewhere…usually on my upper arms or at my ankles as they were increasingly exposed as I went through a growth spurt. It is kind of ironic that almost 30 years later, I actually want to plant and cultivate nettles for their food value. It is hard to believe that a plant that can cause you to feel that you’ve been poked by tiny needles can also be a protein-packed powerhouse of a green loaded with vitamins A and D. Long used as a medicinal in medieval Europe, nettles were used to treat joint pain and as a diuretic to rid the body of excess water.

In order to be able to prepare them for eating, the plants are harvested and allowed to wilt. Once wilted, they no longer have the ability to sting and gloves are no longer necessary for handling. Treat the greens like spinach after washing them and they make a tasty side dish. Many people actually prefer the taste of nettles to that of spinach. I just don’t notice much of a difference. For me the beauty of growing nettles is that I can sow them virtually anywhere and they will take care of themselves. I won’t have to weed them and they will re-seed themselves each year. Yes, my secret is out. I am indeed a lazy gardener!

While doing the research about growing nettles, I was struck by the vast amount of information available on the internet. It seemed that every article stressed that the plants prefer a phosphorus rich environment and are one of the few plants that can actually thrive in soil that has been enriched with poultry droppings. Raising quail, we have plenty of that!

The most helpful information that I found was a list of things that can ease the pain once you've been stung. It seems that the cures for the irritation can often be found growing in close proximity to an outcropping of nettle. The common dock plant (Rumex) or jewelweed (Impatiens Pallida & Impatience Capensis) can provide relief when crushed and rubbed on the affected area.

 Now that I'm older, I now recognize both of those plants as being the other weeds that I was tasked with removing as a child. Who would have guessed that the cure was so close at hand?

lori dunn
3/10/2012 4:05:55 PM


lori dunn
3/10/2012 4:05:24 PM

Becky, Plantain leaf is a healer. It also has properties that help to stop bleading. It will take the itch/sting out of bugbites, scratches, poison, etc... The simplest way to use it is to pluck a clean leaf, pop it in your mouth, give it a couple chews, than place it on the problem area.(bugbite,scratch) You will feel the effects almost instantly. You can also use it to make salve for the same uses.

beckyjo middlebrooks
3/10/2012 1:39:22 AM

I'll have to look up more info on this ''jewelweed'' so I can identify it when I see it. How is it used to prevent poison ivy??? It didn't bother me much when I was a kid but since I've had my own kids..I can get it just by riding down a gravel road where its growing close by(with my window down-of course) !

beckyjo middlebrooks
3/10/2012 1:34:20 AM

Lambs quarters and dandilion greens are wonderful also. Plus you can wash the dandelion flower and egg wash them n flour them as you would wild mushrooms and fry them too. What do you do with all the Plantain (uses,etc) ?? I plan to look for more edible greens this year also. I really enjoy learning more about the many medicinal and food uses for what most ppl call ''weeds'' !

beckyjo middlebrooks
3/10/2012 1:30:03 AM

How do u use them to deter mosquitos?

beckyjo middlebrooks
3/10/2012 1:25:51 AM

Guess this year I can make good use of all of the nettles that grow out 'round the barn instead of just trying to destroy them...LOL>>>

lori dunn
2/27/2012 4:12:02 PM

My parents are the same way! Dad doesn't get it, but mom does, and she would get it from his dirty clothes!

nebraska dave
2/27/2012 3:38:44 AM

Yep, I don't get infected with poison Ivy either but my wife sure did when she did the laundry.

nebraska dave
2/27/2012 1:23:26 AM

Look on page 5.

lori dunn
2/26/2012 9:03:07 PM

I don't get poison ivy either, so i've never tried it personally, but have been told by others it does work.

carolyn evans-dean
2/26/2012 8:43:04 PM

I just realized that I was using my Twitter ID of Bystander Books, rather than the one associated with my name. Thanks so much for all of the comments and encouragement!

2/26/2012 8:41:09 PM

Can you believe that I actually bought nettle seed? I know what you mean about those old ingrained thoughts and lessons. I'll probably stick to using it like spinach, though. I have to make sure that the sting is completely cooked out and not just wilted out, if you know what I mean! Thanks for letting me know that I was a featured blogger in Grit, Dave. I haven't read the latest edition yet!

2/26/2012 8:36:35 PM

I'll have to look into the jewelweed for poison ivy thing... I am one of those folks that is immune to poison ivy but no one else in the family is.

2/26/2012 8:35:40 PM

I've never tried popping jewelweed seeds, but I will add that to my list of fun things. When you turn off the tv, it is amazing how much time you have to truly enjoy yourself!

2/26/2012 8:33:01 PM

It is really funny how we tend to think of weeds as just, well, WEEDS! I never gave much thought as to their names or whether or not they were good for something else. Since I have Bahamian heritage, I always tended to think of plantains as being those banana-like things that taste like potatoes when you cook them. I actively seek out plaintains (the green weed-like kind) in my backyard during the summer. I am a magnet for mosquitos and they do reduce the itch considerably.

lori dunn
2/24/2012 2:15:04 AM

Cindy, my kids called jewelweed "poppers", and they got quite the kick out of making them "pop" when they were little! I've heard jewelweed is good for poison ivy.

lori dunn
2/24/2012 2:12:31 AM

Hi Carolyn! Nettles is one of the many herbs i've added to my list to gather myself this coming year. I have delved into the world of herbal medicine, and I must admit, I am hooked. I have dried nettles that I use to make tea. It is quite good actually. Just tastes like plain ole tea to me, but with a lot of great benefits. Funny how plants I use to think of as weeds have become so much more than that the more I learn. Plantain is another one that I had no idea of the benefits, but after discovering, I am sooo glad it grows all through our yard! Never thought I'd be happy to see all these "weeds"!

cindy murphy
2/23/2012 9:08:21 PM

Hi, Carolyn. My dad taught me about stinging nettles as a kid. He loved nature and walks in the woods or fields with him always meant some new discovery for me, often of the edible variety. He was a wildcrafter before wildcrafting was hip. The stinging nettles though....those he warned me about. It wasn't until decades later, and years after Dad had died, that I found out just how much sting those nettles had when I carelessly grabbed one without gloves. It was probably shortly after that I read they were both edible and nutritious. I've never the gumption to try them though, imagining that sting in my throat. (You go first and tell me how it works out, k?) I've heard the jewelweed cure for the sting too. Dad taught me about jewelweed too.....not that it relieves the nettles' sting, but how to pop the seeds! Too much fun....even now I can't resist watching them fly! Maybe next time I'm amusing myself by popping jewelweed, I'll look for nettles.....and actually work up the nerve to bring some into the kitchen.

nebraska dave
2/23/2012 5:40:43 PM

Carolyn, congrats for being one of the highlighted blogs in the current issue of GRIT magazine. I'm sorry but it's just too ingrained into my psyche from farming DNA heritage to think of Nettles as anything other than something to be eradicated. I've read all the information about how wonderful it is as a healthful food but it's just stuck in my head that nettles are bad. It's hard to change the thought process about the nettle weed when I learned a young and tender age it was the plant that bites. At least it felt like a bite. To eat something like that just goes against all that my life experiences have taught me. Let me say I'm glad to see there are those that frequent the GRIT blogs that are much more adventurous in what they eat than me. That's a good thing. I learn a lot from adventurous folks like you. Keep the good information coming. My newly acquired property for gardens was loaded with nettle weeds. If there had been a market for nettle weed salad, I'd have been rich. As you could most likely guess I scraped the sordid frost riddled remains off the property and will do my best to keep the spring uprising under control. You will have to give us a review on the nettle weed salad. Have a great nettle weed day.

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