Stinging Nettle is one of the first plants to emerge in the forest each spring, and it has an amazing history. Humans have used this plant for thousands of years. World-wide it has been used as a food plant, to treat a variety of conditions, in fibre production and animal food. Interestingly, an archaeological site in Denmark dated to 2800 years ago revealed cloth made from stinging nettle was used to wrap human remains. The site was a rich burial mound and the cloth was imported from elsewhere in Scandinavia, which indicates nettle fibre was deliberately chosen and may have been a luxury item.
Nettle is abundant in the spring and it is a very nutritious leafy green that is high in vitamins, minerals and protein. Traditionally in western Canada, there were few edible plants in the early spring and nettles were particularly prized. Nettles need to be soaked in hot water or quickly cooked to remove the stings (wear gloves while picking and preparing the leaves!), and can then be used as a leafy green like spinach or kale. Nettle leaves can also be dehydrated and then rehydrated for use. Nettle is higher in Vitamin K and Calcium than spinach.
Stinging nettle is common in disturbed areas and in moist shady places, and grows from an extensive network of rhizomes. Nettle is distributed widely across the globe, and there are dozens of different species. Nettle species can be found in the Americas, Asia, Europe, Australasia and Africa, all the way from Alaska to Patagonia and Kamchatka to the southern Cape. Stinging nettle has colonized more islands than other flowering plants, including the Canary Islands, Corsica, Sicily, Hawaii, Taiwan, Philippines, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. How stinging nettle became so widely dispersed is not well understood, but I suspect human involvement because it is such a useful plant.
In herbal medicine, nettle has been used as a tonic, to help painful muscles and joints, as well as arthritis, eczema, anemia, and gout. However, few clinical studies have been conducted. The medical term for the allergic skin reaction ‘hives’ is urticaria, derived from the Latin for nettle. Nettle can be used to treat the reaction it causes, a tea made from the root can be used as a wash for affected skin. It can be used in a compress to help treat insect stings and sprains. An infusion of nettle can be used as a hair rinse, to make hair soft and shiny. A simply delicious tea can be made from dried leaves as well.
Stinging nettles can be fed to laying hens to help turn the egg yolk yellow, this occurs due to the abundance of carotenoids in the leaves.
Gastronomists are researching the use of stinging nettle leaves to coagulate milk in fresh cheese making. Using nettle instead of rennet would enable the development of more vegetable-based cheese production, and address the value of wild foraged plants in functional foods.
|Vitamin K (Phylloquinone)||Vitamin A||Vitamin C||Calcium||Iron|
|Stinging nettle (leaves)||498.6 µg/100g||101 µg/100g||20-60 mg/100g||481 mg/100g||1.64 mg/100g|
- Rehydrate dried leaves and add to soups and stocks
- Sauté young leaves and cook like spinach or other leafy green
- Make a soup with nettle leaves, potatoes, leeks and cream
- Steam leaves and use in a filling for ravioli, pasta sauces or quiche
- Nettle pesto
- Nettle and blue cheese toast (rarebit)
Bergfjord C., Mannering U., Frei K. M., Gleba M., Scharff A. B., Skals I. et al. 2012. Nettle as a distinct Bronze Age textile plant. Scientific Reports 2, 664.
Fiol C., Prado D., Mora M., Alava J. 2016. Nettle Cheese: Using nettle leaves (Urtica dioica) to coagulate milk in the fresh cheese making process. International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science 4, 19-24.
Grosse-Veldmann B., Nürk N. M., Smissen R., Breitwieser I., Quandt D., & Weigend M. 2016. Pulling the sting out of nettle systematics–A comprehensive phylogeny of the genus Urtica L. (Urticaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 102, 9-19.
Loetscher Y., Kreuzer M., Messikommer R. E. 2013. Utility of nettle (Urtica dioica) in layer diets as a natural yellow colorant for egg yolk. Animal Feed Science and Technology 186, 158–168.
Marles R. J., Clavelle C., Monteleone L., Tays N., & Burns D. 2000. Aboriginal plant use in Canada’s northwest boreal forest. UBC Press (University of British Columbia).
University of Maryland Medical Center, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide
Upton R. (2013). Stinging nettles leaf (Urtica dioica L.): Extraordinary vegetable medicine. Journal of Herbal Medicine 3(1), 9-38.
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28 (2016)