Herbs - Nettle

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Nettle, Closeup Nettle, Closeup

(also referred to as...)

Common Nettle, Great Nettle, Stinging Nettle

Latin Name: Urtica dioica, Urtica urens

Family: Urticaceae


As the 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote in 1653, "Stinging nettles need no description; they may be found by feeling, in the darkest night" (The English Physician Enlarged) Urtica is the original Latin name used by Horace and Pliny for the plant. The Latin name "urer" means to burn and refers to the stinging hairs, which in some species contain substances toxic enough to cause death. It was used in cloth manufacture from the Bronze Age to the early 20th century due to the fibrous nature of the plant.

Nettle is a coarse perennial with creeping yellow roots and ovate, deeply toothed leaves covered with bristly, stinging hairs. In summer, minute green flowers are borne in pendulous clusters up to 10cm long. Urtica urens is an annual with similar features and properties.

Nettle is indigenous to North America and Urtica urens in Europe. It grows in waste places everywhere, especially in soils rich in nitrogen and prefers moist soil in sun or partial shade. Nettles can be invasive but are easily controlled by pulling out dormant rhizomes. They provide food for the caterpillars of various butterflies such as red admirals.

New shoots and small leaves can be used fresh or cooked.

The whole plant above the ground is cut as flowering begins in the summer and dried for use in infusions, liquid extracts, ointments, powders and tinctures.