Stinging Nettles: The Green that Bites Back!

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?

Published on Feb 22, 2012

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