Facts about Stinging Nettle
Its really neat to watch this plant mature season after season year after year and really turn into a beautiful colony and even to this day.
Whenever I do discover stinging nettle in the wild, there’s never a time when I see it where I’m not really excited.
When most people think about Stinging Nettle, the image that comes to mind is a plant that’s a nuisance or a plant that’s best to be avoid because of it’s sting.
That’s unfortunate because there is a whole lot of edible and medicinal value and a lot of useful properties beyond that.
There are stinging hairs all throughout the singing Nettle plant, mainly on the stem on the leaf petioles and on the leaf surfaces both on the top and the bottom depending on the species.
These hairs are known as trichomes, they act like hypodermic needles. So whatever human being brushes up against the hairs of a mature plant, will find a silicon tip that breaks off and acts like a hypodermic needle that pierces the skin.
They pierce the skin and actually inject a chemical cocktail various compounds. There are various neurotransmitters and acids that are injected into the skin.
There are neurotransmitters like acetylcholine histamine serotonin yes that feel-good chemical serotonin can cause an irritation, due to various acids like formic acid tartaric acid and oxalic acid.
There are many ways to mitigate these things and if you harvest a plant at the right time you probably won’t get stung at all and we are going to address all these concerns later in the article.
Stinging nettle belongs to the family or to Urtica and worldwide they’re about 54 genera and over 2,600 species.
North America has about six genera, and this family mainly describes plants that are herbaceous they’ve got simple leaves and leaves that are opposite one another in most cases.
In Pennsylvania for example there are two species in the genus Urtica. It has Stinging Nettle urtica dioica it also has Urtica urine which is mainly found the southeastern portion of the state which is an annual plant.
What’s interesting is that there are two subspecies of urtica dioica Stinging Nettle. Their is the subspecies dioica which is native to Europe so it’s non-native to the United States.
It has heart shaped leaf faces and the stinging hairs are both on the top and the bottom of the leaves.
The subspecies gracilis is native to the United States it does not really have a prominent heart shaped faces or heart shaped at the base. Unlike the Stinging Nettle native to Europe the stinging hairs are mainly confined to the bottom of the leaves.
Urica subspecies dioica native to europe and dioica subspecies gracilis native to the United States are both the same species and we can both use them in the same exact way.
Stinging nettle is a perennial plant that can grow to be rather large so when it’s mature it can reach heights of two meters which is about six and a half feet and it can get even larger than that.
It grows in dense colonies connected by underground rhizomes. There is a portion of the underground rhizome that are the roots that shoot off from the underground rhizome which is the underground stem. This is how most of the colonies are connected.
If you look at the aerial portion you’ll see that the leaves are opposite one another. They’re directly across from each other almost like a cross, they’re not staggered left-right left-right but directly opposite one another. This is the characteristic that is very common for members of the articacae family.
The leaves are coarsely toothed so they’re serrated they’re not completely smooth around. You’ll see that there are many teeth around here they’re not very fine like you might see in a birch tree.
They’re more coarsely toothed all the way around and you will see shades of green and purple. Purple is really prominent when the plant is young so in late March approaching early April and you’ll usually see some of their purple tints especially on the underside of the leaves.
So on the top it’s dark green but on the bottom you’ll see some of those purple reddish hues.
You’ll typically find stinging nettle almost anywhere in North America. Usually you’ll see it in sunny openings, and frequently along streams creeks and in other wet places.
But you also see it in fields and farms along fence rows and in disturbed areas like empty. One of the key identifying features that I just mentioned is that it does typically grow in sunny opening because one of its local likes is the wood Nettle Laportea canadensis.
Honestly whenever people talk about Stinging Nettle I get the feeling that a lot of them are referring to wood Nettle because that plant typically grows in the understory. It likes partial shade or shaded areas so if you’re walking through the woods in a shaded area and you get stung by a plant, it could be the wood Nettle.
That plant has alternately arranged leaves all the way up the stock. It doesn’t have opposite leaves like you would see in stinging nettle but has arranged leaves.
Regardless that one is edible there’s another look-alike which is the false Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica) that does not have stinging hairs but it superficially resembles stinging nettles.
That one has opposite leaves as well but does not have stinging hairs. The wood Nettle has stinging hairs that will sting you and it’s got a pretty potent sting as well.
let’s talk about the nutritional and medicinal profile of stinging nettle. Stinging Nettle was one of the most nutritious plants in habitats where it grows.
One of the reasons that I first got introduced to stinging Nettle and why I became obsessed with it early on is because I discovered how nutritious this plant could be.
According to authors like Sam fair without the stinging hairs, this plant would be obliterated by herbivores almost immediately that’s how nutritious it is and that’s why it has these trichomes perhaps to defend off herbivores that know how nutritious this plant is.
Nutritionally speaking, this plant is very high in protein about 30 percent dry mass of the leave is protein.
Also there are minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium, and vitamins like carotenoids and vitamin C.
Stinging Nettle is one of the richest sources of vitamin C that we have in the wild about 238 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams of tissue.
That’s pretty high! let’s compare that to the orange: Orange about 100 grams of tissue which is about a medium size orange has about fifty three point two milligrams of vitamin C.
That’s pretty good but it’s not as high as two hundred and thirty-eight milligrams of vitamin C. That’s over four times the amount of vitamin C, gram per gram.
Vitamin C is an absolutely essential nutrient that we all need we cannot manufacture it ourselves. One of the easiest ways to acquire vitamin C it’s to nibble on some wild plants from time to time including the very nutritious stinging nettle.
Now we’re going to move into some of the medical research on stinging nettle and there’s a lot of research on this plant in human health.
We’re only going to focus on three particular areas of human health and the three particular areas that have been heavily researched when it comes to stinging nettle.
The first is benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH. BPH is a non cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland this is a pretty serious condition. 50% of men by the age of 60 experience symptoms of BPH and 90% of men by the age of 85 experience symptoms of BPH.
There are at least three if not more double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trials showing that stinging nettle helps to alleviate symptoms of BPH.
So this is the gold standard when you look at double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trials on human participants experiencing the benefits of stinging nettle.
In these studies and in most of the research it shows that its the rhizome of the plant the underground stem structures, that provide the benefit for BPH not necessarily the aerial portions though it may help to some degree.
But if you’re looking to use it, definitely look into the rhizome which is the underground stem. You can make effective Concoctions and teas, you could also make alcohol extractions as well.
Another area where we see stinging nettle shine is when it comes to allergies or allergic rhinitis seasonal allergies.
There was a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial utilizing 69 human participants showing that a freeze-dried extract at the aerial portions of Stinging Nettle, fared better than placebo at treating seasonal allergies.
Just an alcohol extract of the aerial portion – meaning the leaves and maybe some of the above-ground stems, works successfully in treating some seasonal allergies.
And last but certainly not least, let’s briefly talk about stinging nettle in diabetes.
Over the years have been various double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trials for example one showing that taking stinging nettle extract was able to decrease certain inflammatory molecules associated with diabetes.
Another more recent study found that ingestion of stinging nettle was able to successfully decrease blood glucose levels and also decreased hemoglobin A 1 c numbers.
In the most recent study from 2016 found that the ingestion of stinging nettle in women for eight weeks (alcohol / water extract) was able to successfully decrease fasting blood glucose levels, decrease triglyceride levels, increase HDL which is the good cholesterol and also increased SOD or superoxide dismutase activity inside of our bodies.
SOD is a group of antioxidant enzymes that is absolutely essential to combat excessive oxidation inside of our bodies. An excessive oxidation is responsible for a host of degenerative conditions.
These aren’t the only studies showing that Stinging Nettle may benefit human health or other areas as well besides allergies diabetes and I encourage you to look into them.
If any of these illnesses that I mention are relevant to you, do more research on Stinging Nettle and see what this plant may or may not be able to do for you.
So now let’s talk about how to properly harvest this plant so that you do not get stung.
The best time to harvest stinging nettle so that it tastes great, the texture is great and so you do not get stung, is early in the season.
So late winter early spring, about a six week window whenever this plant is about two inches tall or less.
Once late April approaches and the plants are getting much taller and the trichomes are maturing and they’re going to sting you much more readily.
Once this plant does mature in July, August, September you can still harvest portions of this plant. What I would recommend it to harvest the tender top the young growing tips. You can still eat those raw but I would probably cook them.
You can harvest the bigger leaves in the summer time but they’re going to be much more mature and they’re going to sting you much more readily. So you might need to wear gloves you can use scissors to snip them off.
You can harvest those leaves in the summertime and dry them out so that I can save them to make teas out of them.
Earlier in the season, people are usually harvesting stinging nettle and later on throughout the summer months whenever the plants a little too mature you can harvest some of the tender tips to eat.
You can cook that up and steam it like spinach, or harvest some of the bigger leaves and dehydrate those and put those in a jar and save them for tea.
You can drink tea pretty much throughout winter until the jar runs empty and it’s almost like a soup whenever you’re drinking it. It’s more like food than it is a tea because it’s so nourishing and it’s so medicinal as well and it feels really good consuming that broth throughout the winter months.
But again whenever you harvest this plant in the springtime it’s okay to harvest it without any gloves because you probably won’t get stung.
Once this plant matures though throughout the summer months you’re going to want to harvest the tender tops or use scissors or gloves and cook this plant later on. Earlier in the year you’re not going to get stung but later in the year you definitely will.
Then there’s a resurgence again around October November when everything is dying back and you might see some of these plants sprout up again, you might be able to harvest plants raw without getting stung.
But once the summer months reach it’s definitely best to just harvest the top portions or just cut off the leaves and dehydrate this so that you can make a tea out of them.
It basically can be substituted for anything that you would use spinach for, so it kind of has a nice rich hearty brothy kind of flavor.
So there we have it a lot of information on the beautiful Stinging Nettle, but of course only a small fraction of everything that we could ever possibly discuss.
I encourage you to get out there and introduce yourself to this plant if you haven’t already.
Learn more information on it and don’t just stop there but then personally connect with this plant.
One of the best ways to act with any plant edible or medicinal, is to personally ingest it. Make it a part of your dietary strategy and perhaps even your medicinal strategy.
And if it is already a part of your dietary medicinal strategy leave a comment down below I’d love to hear how it’s been working for you. I’ve been a big fan of stinging nettle for many years and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.
I encourage you to head on over to the Mamaki.org sign up page and sign up for the email newsletter.