Posts Tagged ‘stinging nettle’

I was out doing a bit of weeding in the garden the other day. The weeds had a bit of a start on me because I have been waiting for the hostas, which are slow to stand up and be counted, to let their presence be known. That’s my excuse, anyway. My mind was wandering as I tidied up around the hosta tips and a patch of daylilies, and my unattended hand reached out and grabbed a handful of errant greenery, intending to tug it out by the roots. YOW! Now I remember why I usually put on gardening gloves. Stinging nettle!

According to my guide book, brushing against stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) produces an immediate stinging pain and sometimes red welts, searing burns that seldom last long but can be intense for a few moments. When you actually grab hold of a handful of it, the nasty tingling and ‘pins and needles’ can last for a couple of days, speaking from personal experience. The ‘stingers’ are glandular hairs (trichomes), which cover the stem and leaf surfaces. The hairs have a bulb-like tip that breaks off when touched, exposing sharp little needles that inject chemical irritants from their basal sacs.

The ‘stingers’ mainly protect the plant from herbivores, but the plants are appreciated by a number of insects. In particular, the Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis),the Eastern Comma (P. comma) and Milbert’s tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti) butterflies may feed on stinging nettle as caterpillars. Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterflies are said to rely quite exclusively on nettles. The caterpillars fold over a leaf and line it with silk. They use the leaf as a resting place and later pupate there.

Stinging nettle prefers open, sunny areas and is often found in the vicinity of gardens and dwellings. In North America, there is both a native subspecies (Urtica dioica gracilis) and an introduced European subspecies (U. d. dioica). Worldwide, there are 25 Urtica species. In Europe, nettle fibres were used for centuries to weave linen fabric. In World War I, Germany raised nettle to produce “nettle cloth”, for use in tents and other durable fabric products. Cooking removes the sting from the plant, and young shoots and tender top leaves can be eaten as greens. The leaves are rich in vitamins A and C and iron, and can be used to make a nutritious tea. This Nettles for Vitality post offers this information:

The leaves and stems of stinging nettles are rich in iron, potassium, manganese, calcium, iodine, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and the B-complex vitamins, and have long been used in northern climes to improve vitality. The Gaelic saint Columba favored nettle broth during his sojourn on Iona. Four centuries later and half a world away, the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa acquired a greenish complexion from years of subsisting entirely on nettle soup while meditating in a cave.

Some butterfly garden manuals recommend growing stinging nettle. In spite of its value, both as caterpillar food and a source of vitality, which really, I could use lots of, I’d sooner not have stinging nettles growing in my garden!

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