Weed or Herb?

Stinging Nettle

HerbDoc has some thoughts on nettles:

Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, is an herbaceous perennial which grows from 3 to 7 feet tall and blooms in June.  If you’ve come in contact with it, you won’t soon forget it as it is covered with many stinging hairs (tricomes) whose needle-like tops come off when lightly touched.  These tops contain several chemicals including acetylcholine, histamine and serotonin which cause pain and itching that can last for up to a week.

As painful as its bite is, I wouldn’t be without a patch in my yard.

Fresh nettle has an abundance of nitrogen and is often added to my compost pile as an activator.  In the very early spring, when the leaves are tender, it can be picked and boiled (to remove the stinging hairs) and eaten like spinach.  These young leaves are also very popular in Northern and Eastern Europe where they are made into soup.  Nettle is rich in vitamins A, D, iron, potassium, manganese and calcium.  Do not use as a pot herb after it blooms because it forms cystoliths which may cause urinary and kidney problems.  Dried leaves can be used for teas which were often part of spring tonics.

Stinging nettle was used by ancient Roman soldiers for urtification, a process of flogging oneself.  This was done to treat tired, painful legs on long marches and stimulated circulation!  It has also been used as a treatment for arthritis and rheumatism in Germany, and extracts of the plant are said to control dandruff and eczema.


If nettle grows freely in your yard, it is a sign that the area has high fertility and contains phosphorus.  Its growth also encourages beneficial insects.  Should you come in contact with nettle, look for dock, another common weed in Rhode Island.  Rubbing the leaves on the affected area will alleviate the burning and itching.  Other folk remedies include horsetail, Jewelweed, or the topical use of milk of magnesia.


About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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5 Responses to Weed or Herb?

  1. Mary says:

    Is there any classes in ri that teach one how to forage?


  2. gilbert says:

    these things are running wild in my garden which seems great according to what I have just read, but they are making amny parts of my garden no go areas and stunting growth of my fruit and veg. I have tried uprooting them on several occassions but they seem to come back stronger and greater in number. Any tips to control them?


    • auntie beak says:

      this is a tough weed to control in larger numbers without resorting to evil herbicides. it spreads both by seed and by underground rhizomes, and can easily regrow from any bits and pieces of root left in the soil, as i’m sure you’ve already figured out. one encouraging thing i’ve read is that it doesn’t stand up well to repeated cultivation; i.e., keep hacking at it. you can also try mulching the area thickly. or you can always do as herb doc suggests… eat it! good luck.


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