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Nettles Plants Just a Weed ? You Must Be Joking!

Updated on August 4, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

Nettles belong to the family Urticaceae which, world wide, comprises approximately 5oo species. Its genus name of Urtica loosely translates as " I sting " from the Latin uro meaning to burn. The species name of dioica { pronounced dee-o-ee-ka } derives from Greek words that allude to two houses or two abodes. This because, nettles' in the main , have only one type of flower occurring on one plant i.e., male or female { only rarely do you encounter both male and female flowers on the same plant.}. hence two plants are needed in order for pollination to occur. Flowers are so formed as to be adapted for wind pollination.

Female flowers are arranged in tight clusters and tend to droop while male flowers may be recognised because they stand out almost horizontally. They flower from May right through until early winter. Studies have revealed that at least 16 hours of daylight is required in order for the flower production to begin.

Each plant produces many seeds the majority of which germinate in the springtime. Young nettle plants do not flower until their second year, this helps the plant to form a good root system. The seeds are eaten by earth worms a fact revealed during a study of worm casts when excreted seeds were discovered. They are also distributed in the droppings of birds and mammals.

The root system is perennial, creeping and of a light colour. Along this creeping rhizome nodes are produced which in turn produce shoots that will emerge in the spring. The rhizome passes the winter possessing truncated shoots. The rhizome is durable and persistent and should any part of it remain in the ground after weeding it will root to form new plants.

The stems are erect in habit attaining the height of 50-150cm and like the foliage are clad in white stinging hairs. { the plants way of protecting itself from being grazed or uprooted }.

The individual leaves are triangular in form and coarsely toothed, the lower leaves are long stalked, the upper leaves are born on short stalks. The leaves are strongly veined. The leaves are used in culinary and medicinal preparation { see below}.

LEAVES AND ASSOCIATED CREATURES----The foliage is beneficial to species of butterfly such as the small tortoise shell, comma, red admiral and the peacock butterfly. The caterpillars of the peacock are probably the easiest to identify. They are shiny black with barbed prominent spikes. White spots are a salient feature along each of the segments. They may occur in large numbers.

Aphids also frequent nettles where they accumulate in large gatherings. Another creature which may be encountered often on nettle leaves during the summer is the small, metallic bronze coloured, weevil many species of fly may also be observed resting on the foliage.

Culinary Uses

I have employed nettle leaves in soups , teas, and as a vegetable for many years. My first encounter with the species of our native flora { for there is evidence that the nettle grew in England long before the Romans arrived, who were purported to have introduced the species.}; in common with many other children was not a good one, their stings causing a pain that one does not forget. It was down to my grandfather who was wise in the ways of the countryside to educate me about this most useful of plants. This education was not lost on me and as a teenager I began my experiments utilising its foliage.

My first experimnet was simply an infusion of the leaves " nettle tea " . I washed half a dozen leaves then cut them into smaller pieces with scissors. these fresh young leaves were then placed into a mug and soaked in boiling water for five minutes or so. The water was then drained off and the leaves discarded. the " tea " was then sipped. I know friends that add honey to the liquid while the water is still hot, but this is down to personal taste.

To use the foliage as a vegetable the same method is used .However, instead of discarding the foliage they are placed in a small bowl . A knob of butter is added and then they are beaten with a fork . They may then be eaten as a vegetable . The warmth lingers well after they have been consumed. Boiling water kills all the stings.

My next experiment was a soup the ingredients were as follows---

NETTLE LEAVES . A handful .

CLEAVERS { Goose grass. } A handful this is optional.

MEAT OR vegetable stock.--2 TO 2.5 PINTS.



POURING CREAM ---optional.

METHOD--- the stock is brought to the boil and the pearl barley added. { it takes longer to cook than the other ingredients}. when the barley is softened add the chopped onion. At this stage you can also add the nettle/ goose-grass. cook simmering until the soup is ready to serve. The pouring cream { optional } may then be added. Again this is down to personal taste. Do not add the cream when the water is boiling for it has the tendency to curdle. Add and stir as the soup is simmering.

All of the above uses are naturally good for you. nettles { and goose grass } are excellent blood purifiers and contain vitamins and traces of iron. Other ways nettles have been used in the kitchen are diverse and range from NETTLE PUDDING through to nettle beer..

It is appropriate at this point to note that when trying herbal preparations for the first time try tasting a small amount of the herb to check your tolerance. It is very rare, but should you have a bad reaction, or an allergic reaction do not eat any more. Just as with convention food and indeed medicine, some preparations may not suit individuals. For example some conventional anti-biotics may cause sickness and giddiness to some individuals. Some people are allergic to penicillin etc,etc.

Nettles have been employed by man in many other ways. The stalks have been used to make a linen that was said to be durable and of a good quality. A dye has been extracted from the plants that was used during the second World War to dye camouflage nets. Extracts were also used to produce pain killers during the first World war.

Nettle leaves soaked in a bucket of water also make an excellent liquid plant food. I have used gallons of the liquid on my garden over the years with excellent results. It must be said that the resulting liquid is of a murky green colour which has an odour not worthy of praise.Yet does not manure?. Wherever nettles have grown for a number of years then been removed { not leaving any rhizome fragments } the soil is of a good quality and fertile.

If you have the mindset that nettles are just another annoying weed, you will miss out on its many virtues.

Components of the stinging nettle


Nettle in flower below young shoot



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      ruffridyer, you are so right, thank you for taking the time to comment. Best wishes to you.

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      I believe every living thing on our planet serves a purpose.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Thank you every one who have took the time to comment on Nettles Just a Weed-You Must be Joking.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      AliciaC, nice to meet you. Plants have a lot to offer those who seek their gifts. Thank you for your visit and for leaving your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for an interesting and informative hub. My father grows nettles in his garden for medicinal and nutritional purposes. It’s wonderful to discover substances in wild plants that can help with health problems and to find new plants can be used as nutritious food.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Tamarajo The nutrient value of nettles is beneficial . They rich in iron which helps the me the sting is killed by boiling water. I have eaten nettles many many times and I am still here to type this. However, remember that after June {at least here in the U.K.} the nettle foliage as a laxative affect. best wishes to you.

    • Tamarajo profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm going to try the culinary uses. I have nettle around here coming out my ears. I would imagine you use gloves when cutting and handling them. I'm a little nervous about drinking something that burns the skin like it does but will trust your info that boiling it kills that part. I wonder what the nutrient value is.

      Good advice about trying small amounts. I ate way to many Hen of the woods wild mushrooms the first time I tried them and am now allergic to them.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi gr82bme, it is the young tops that are used for culinary purposes. They are especially beneficial during spring and until June, after this they become tough and of a laxative nature. However, for other purposes such as fertiliser feed for plants they can be used any time. Thank you for your visit . Best wishes to you.

    • gr82bme profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Do you use the leaves when the plant is young?

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Linday, nice to meet you. Thank you for visiting and for leaving your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • Lindsay Godfree profile image

      Lindsay Godfree 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      Thanks for reading my articles on nature! I do not post here very much...cannot figure out the payment..

      Anyway, I enjoyed this article about nettles. I used to be very interested in home remedies and think that everyone should get educated about them. Good work!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Jule, thank you for your visit and for taking the time to comment.

    • Jule Romans profile image

      Jule Romans 

      8 years ago from United States

      Quite interesting and enjoyable to read.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Rose, nettles are the first wild plant we come to recognise because of its sting. May be a pair of gloves will help you pick them, once boiling water is poured over them the sting is killed. Thank you for reading and for leaving your comment, much appreciated.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile image

      Rose Kolowinski 

      8 years ago

      Having been stung so many times when I was a kid by nettles, it's hard to imagine picking them to eat! Thanks for all the great information! Maybe if someone else picked them and processed them, I might be willing to try them. : )

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      2uesday thank you for reading and for leaving your comments. It is a strange fact that the juice of nettle leaves will also alleviate the stings they cause. It is true that there are many species that rely on nettles for food and for protection.

    • 2uesday profile image


      8 years ago

      D.A.L. I've never used nettles in the way you mention in this hub, but I will not erradicate the ones that grow near my compost heap because I know they are not a 'bad weed'. The butterflies like them. If they start to take over I cut them back a bit but mostly I leave them for the wild life. I think you can use them like comfrey in the compost. It always surprises me that if you get stung by them there is always a dock leaf near by to soothe the sting. Thanks for sharing this.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      I am pleased to hear that you are thinking of utilising these common plants. you will surely benefit from such uses.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      will not be throwing my nettles away anymore thats for sure thankyou for the usefull info!! looking forward to the next slot

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Thanks for all your kind and encouraging words

    • IzzyM profile image


      8 years ago from UK

      Excellent, informative hub and probably the first time I have read anything about nettles online! They are more interesting than I ever gave them credit for. Thanks.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      I'm really enjoying some of the hubs you've been writing! I've seen the linen from nettles on display in a museum years ago.

    • moonlake profile image


      8 years ago from America

      I have lots of nettles coming up in my garden and I'm always pulling them out with gloves. Didn't know all this information on them. Good hub

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      8 years ago from India

      It's so refreshing reading about plants that most people would have no place for in manicured, landscaped, unnatural gardens. Homeopathy uses the lesser nettle - urtica urens as a remedy for skin irritations, rheumatic pains, etc.


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