Latin Name: Urtica urens, U. incisa
Description: An erect annual herb, it is branched and grows up to 80 cm high. The stems are soft and 4 angled. The leaves are broadly oval and deeply toothed, 1-4 cm long. They are armed with sharply pointed stinging hairs. The flowers are small and in short clusters arising from the base of the leaves.
Notes: In Europe, Urtica urens is one of the food plants of the small tortoiseshell butterfly Aglais urticae. In New Zealand it is also a food plant for the New Zealand Red Admiral butterfly (Bassaris gonerilla, syn. Vanessa gonerilla, syn. Papilio gonerilla), and the Australian/New Zealand Yellow Admiral butterfly (Bassaris itea).
Edibility Rating out of 5: 3
Medicinal Rating out of 5: 3
Edible Uses: Young leaves – cooked and used as a potherb. A very nutritious food, high in vitamins and minerals, it makes an excellent spinach substitute and can also be added to soups and stews. Only use the young leaves and wear stout gloves when harvesting them to prevent getting stung. Although the fresh leaves have stinging hairs, thoroughly drying or cooking them destroys these hairs. Nettle beer is brewed from the young shoots.
Warnings: The leaves of the plants have stinging hairs, causing irritation to the skin. This action is neutralized by heat so the cooked leaves are perfectly safe and nutritious. However, only young leaves should be used because older leaves develop gritty particles called cystoliths which act as an irritant to the kidneys.
Medicinal Uses: Antiasthmatic; Antidandruff; Astringent; Depurative; Diuretic; Galactogogue; Haemostatic; Homeopathy; Hypoglycaemic; Tonic.
Medicinal Information: Nettles have a long history of use in the home as a herbal remedy. A tea made from the leaves has traditionally been used as a tonic and blood purifier. The whole plant is antiasthmatic, antidandruff, astringent, depurative, diuretic, galactogogue, haemostatic, hypoglycaemic and a stimulating tonic. An infusion of the plant is very valuable in stemming internal bleeding, it is also used to treat anaemia, excessive menstruation, haemorrhoids, arthritis, rheumatism and skin complaints, especially eczema. Externally, the plant is used to treat arthritic pain, gout, sciatica, neuralgia, haemorrhoids, hair problems etc. For medicinal purposes, the plant is best harvested in May or June as it is coming into flower and dried for later use. This species merits further study for possible uses against kidney and urinary system ailments. The juice of the nettle can be used as an antidote to stings from the leaves and an infusion of the fresh leaves is healing and soothing as a lotion for burns. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh plant, gathered when in flower. A useful first-aid remedy, it is used in the treatment of ailments such as bites and stings, burns, hives and breast feeding problems.
Other Uses: Compost; Dye; Fibre; Hair; Liquid feed; Oil; Repellent.
Other Information: A strong flax-like fibre is obtained from the stems. Used for string and cloth, it also makes a good quality paper. It is harvested as the plant begins to die down in early autumn. An essential ingredient of ‘QR’ herbal compost activator, the leaves are also an excellent addition to the compost heap and they can be soaked for 7 – 21 days in water to make a very nutritious liquid feed for plants. This liquid feed is both insect repellent and a good foliar feed. The growing plant increases the essential oil content of other nearby plants, thus making them more resistant to insect pests. A hair wash is made from the infused leaves and this is used as a tonic and antidandruff treatmen. A green dye is obtained from the leaves and stems. A yellow dye is obtained from the roo. An oil extracted from the seeds is used as an illuminant in lamps.