Urtica chamaedryoides: Nettle Knowledge

Stinging Nettles Know How 

I  was hiking one day when I saw what I thought was a mint I had not seen before. I picked a leaf, and it bit me. Welcome to the world of stinging nettles.

Florida’s Heartleaf Nettle

As luck would have it, I also picked the North American nettle that stings the worse, Urtica chamaedryoides (UR-tee-ka  kam-ee-dree-OY-deez) which is a combination of Dead Latin and Living Greek that means “burning dwarf.” Modern Greeks call the nettle Tsouknida.

Humanity has been using the nettles for thousands of years. Not only are they an excellent source of food but also cordage. They  also seem to be an element of grade-school torture, judging by all the videos on the Internet involving kids and nettles.

From the nutrition point of view, they pack a wallop as well. Stinging Nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. They are also high in protein and when cooked are very mild, tasting similar to spinach but slightly rougher.

Stinging hairs cover the nettleIndeed, soaking, cooking, refrigerating, wilting or drying neutralizes the plant’s sting. Good as the plant is it should not be eaten after flowering. It reportedly can irritate the urinary tract, which makes some sense as it is a diuretic as well. It also gets stringy as it ages. Cooked nettles can be used in a wide variety of recipes from polenta to pesto to soup. There is a recipe below. The water you cook the nettles in can be kept for tea or as a soup base. You can also dry the leaves and use them for tea as well.

The stems of the nettles contain bast fiber and have been used the same way as flax, caesar weed, Spanish Moss, and retted similarly. (Retting is a means of rotting off the non-fiber material of the plant. ) The fiber is more coarse than cotton, closer to burlap.

As for stinging… I have been stung by a spurge called Cnidoscolus stimulosus and this stinging nettle (Urtica chamaedryoides.) While both bites are different I think the Urtica wins, so to speak.  With me the Cnidoscolus‘ contact begins to burn slowly and intensifies over an hour or so and then goes away completely by two hours. The Urtica hits, as Shakespeare said,  like a “hotspur” throbs, then lessens in 15 or 20 minutes but stays slightly sore for another day or so, especially after contact with water.  The juice of a jewelweed or dock is reportedly a good treatment of the Urtica sting. Didn’t work.  The juice of a chewed leaf is also supposed to bring relief but I can say that absolutely does not work with me. Nor plantagos or urine. A paste of baking soda did bring some relief.

There are some look-alike plants to the beginner. Two are the Pilea pumila and a new weed, the Fatoua villosa.  Neither sting. It is that simple. A third plant that does not really look like the Urticas but does sting is the aforementioned Cnidoscolus stimulosus. It has deeply palmate leaves and large white flowers, at least a half inch or more across.  You can see a picture of the Fatoua on the UFO page. The article on the Spurge Nettle is here.

One last word before the recipe. While folks can be allergic to stinging nettles they are also used to treat certain allergies particularly hay fever. Around the world nettles have been used for at least centuries to treat nasal and respiratory issues such as coughs, runny nose, chest congestion, asthma, whooping cough and in some cases tuberculosis. The roots are used as well as dried leaves. Apparently freeze dried leaves are the best.

Nettle Pesto

Ingredients

6 cups fresh nettle, blanched in boiling water for a minute, drained and roughly chopped, 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, 1/3 cup  pine nuts, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions

Place the blanched nettle, pine nuts, Parmesan, a little salt and pepper, in a food processor. Blend the mixture until the mixture is smooth, or reduce by hand. While the motor is running, or mixing by hand, gradually pour in the olive oil until well distributed.

Green Deane’s :”Itemized” Plant Profile: Stinging Nettles

IDENTIFICATION: Urtica chamaedryoides: An unbranched weed one to several feet high, small inconspicuous flowers, fine bristly hairs all over the stem, leafstalks and underside of leaves. Very obvious. The bristles sting greatly when gently touched.  Manhandling the plant reduces the chance of being stung as it breaks the hairs before they sting.

TIME OF YEAR: Spring and fall, depending upon the climate, during Florida’s winter into spring.

ENVIRONMENT: Moist areas, along streams and woodlands, nettles are found around the world.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves raw or cooked but eating raw requires much skill to reduce stinging. Usually young shoots and leaves are boiled 10 to 15 minutes.  Reserve the resulting water for nettle tea. Once cooked use like spinach or basil. Very nutritious. The cooking water is good as a tea or soup base. Dried leaves can be used to make tea. If you are an the trail you can use an alternative method of preparing nettles used by Ray Mears, and English wild food expert. He places the entire plant near a fire for a few minutes until it completely wilts, and that stops it from stinging. Mature stems can be used for cordage.

 

If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna June 15, 2017 at 03:10

How about Homestead Florida. I would love to forage stinging nettle for my Asthma. Its so expensive in Wholefoods to continue to buy but I must learn and want to be be sure and I don’t want to take chances. I did learn on my wilderness trails about the Bull Thistle and loved your video on it. I took a picture long ago and it was thrilling to finally learn about the plant.

Reply

Green Deane June 17, 2017 at 18:17

I’m not sure it grows that far south… but if it does you would only find it in the winter months, January and February. As for asthma you might want to contact an herbalist and inquire about using Sida for that.

Reply

Brannon Gale March 28, 2017 at 21:23

I boiled Urtica chamaedryoides down into a tea 50/50 mix with Cleavers to teat my wife’s UTI.
In less than 24 hr’s she was lactating. My wife is paralyzed from the chest down from a car accident, but we had a child almost three years ago, and because of her paralysis she was unable to lactate. She tried all conventional medical methods to lactate, but was unable. I wish we would have known about this a few years ago.

Brannon Gale
Normangee, Tx

Reply

gary September 4, 2016 at 10:12

I live in New Brunswick where we get some regrowth in the fall on the old stems and at the base. I’m curious if these are safe to eat? I suspect they are OK. Deane any thoughts on these northern fall Oct, Nov and Dec stinging nettle shoots?

Reply

Green Deane September 12, 2016 at 20:24

It think they are safe to eat.

Reply

Koreen March 29, 2016 at 13:59

I have seen stinging nettle growing in two locations in St Petersburg, in the shade and with plenty of water. Like peppermint, it needs some babying, but it can grow here.

Reply

chris January 27, 2016 at 15:58

Is there stinging nettle in South Florida (Loxahatchee area)?

I was told to pick some nettle by an herbalist this summer on his farm. He said it was nettle and when I questioned the fact it did not sting was informed it is a different nettle which is edible. I wanted to make the pesto.
Now I am wondering if the plant was Boehmeria cylindrica and not edible…..

Reply

Green Deane January 28, 2016 at 20:11

Hmmmm…no photo? It is easy to mis-ID a bog nettle for a stinging nettle except the bod nettle does not sting and the true Urtica stings badly. But we also have another “stinging nettle” which is in a totally different family, the Cnidoscolus stimulosus.

Reply

mccorpsman January 6, 2016 at 08:10

I lived in England for years and had many run ins with Nettle – some good, most bad. I took a class on edibles there that taught you to love the plant. I made cordage and nettle soup several times a year. It was taught, and found to be true, that when in flower the toxins were gone and you could handle without gloves. I have never seen our Florida varieties in flower though. I find that bruised dock leave in Dawn dishwashing liquid helped the stings.

Reply

Tonimarie July 26, 2015 at 10:25

While hiking I got bit by a nettle that obviously wanted to be noticed. It started welting up and stinging so I picked a plantain leaf and applied a spit poltice. In less then a minute the welt was going down and the sting was gone.

Reply

Jim Cramer May 19, 2015 at 09:46

While in Scotland I discovered through personal experience that rubbing burdock on a nettle sting neutralizes it.I recently bought a new house and have found both nettles and burdock in my yard. I suspect I’ll find out if burdock works for North American nettles at some point.

Reply

rodger January 28, 2015 at 14:12

I am confused. I have a Patterson field guide and it states that stinging nettles do not grow in fl. I know they are not allways right. The Latin name in the book is also different. “Urtica dioica” if you could please put an end to my mental conundrum. Thank you

Reply

Green Deane January 28, 2015 at 17:48

Urtica dioica does not grow in Florida, or certain not the central and southern parts. However, we do have our own little stinging nettles as the article states, the Heartleaf Nettle. It has a worse sting than the U. dioica. The Heartleaf Nettle is edible

Reply

rodger January 29, 2015 at 07:04

Thank you very much. Love your videos and site. What you do is a great resource for those of us who want to relearn this valuble knowledge that most have forgotten.

Reply

Green Deane January 29, 2015 at 13:54

Thank you for your kind words.

Reply

Bonna Wieler October 21, 2014 at 21:03

Nettle tea is great for bladder infections, along with Corn Silk.
Drink 2 cups at a time for best results (to eliminate the pain in peeing, if you have a bladder infection)….

Reply

Kate B February 6, 2014 at 15:30

OK, here’s what else I found out. (Deane, I’m sure you already know all of this, but I’m posting it for anyone else who is interested. And obviously you can comment or correct me if I’m wrong.) In the category of plants that are similar to Nettles but don’t sting, there is also something called False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), which is not edible. I also found Dog Nettle (Urtica urens), which is edible, although it doesn’t look much like Nettles (either Stinging or Wood) even to me. Both are in the Urticaceae family, and neither of them has stinging hairs.

Reply

Jae May 22, 2014 at 21:12

I harvested some nettles which happened to be growing in and among a good deal of poison ivy plants with some touching each other. I am sensitive to poison ivy and don’t want to ingest the oil. If I have to, I would discard the harvest but would prefer to cook and eat them. Suggestions welcome.

Reply

aktrekker May 25, 2014 at 04:28

Don’t risk it, toss them. If you happen to eat some of the urushiol you’ll be very sorry – as you lay in the hospital.

Reply

Kate B January 21, 2014 at 21:42

Well, OK, maybe they’re only look-alike to a beginner. In your Stinging Nettle article above you write: “There are some look-alike plants to the beginner. Two are the Pilea pumila and a new weed, the Fatoua villosa.” I looked both of these up on the web, and Pilea pumila looks more like what I saw than Fatoua villosa does. Wikipedia says: “The plant is often mistaken for stinging nettle or Urtica dioica, but can be distinguished by the lack of trichomes, or stinging hairs, and the lower amount of branching of the inflorescences.”

I did some more searching after I posted my question, and found one website (http://awaytogarden.com/name-that-weed-pilea-pumila-or-clearweed/) where someone posts the following about Pilea Pumila: “It’s technically edible, says Wildman Steve Brill, but that expert forager calls it “unpalatable.””.

Hmmm. If I see it again I’ll at least try it (making sure it’s the right plant, of course).

Reply

Kate B January 20, 2014 at 14:57

Dean,
Are any of the look-alikes edible? Where I used to live I found myself drawn to plants that looked like Stinging Nettle to me, but they didn’t sting. I wanted so much to eat them, but was unsure what they were.

Thanks.

Reply

Green Deane January 20, 2014 at 15:27

Look alike edibles? There are some similar looking non-edibles. But really there are no look-alike plants if you look closely enough.

Reply

ROLF LOTH January 9, 2014 at 21:25

I pick sting nettles when they are about 55 cm high and the flowers develop. I pinch off the top 2-4 whorls of leaves, always work from the stem upwards and outwards. This way, I brush away from the stingers and don’t get stung.
I chop up the nettles, then boil them for about 3 minutes and after grind them into a porridge, adding sea salt, nutmeg, some lemon, and caraway seeds. What we don’t use goes into freezer bags for later (cayenne or pepper is optional). Sometimes I add some Lambs Quarters to the nettles, which gives it a milder taste. Fried eggs and nettle puree makes a good, healthy meal. I also dry nettle leaves and mix them in with peppermint, yarrow, plantain, linden blossoms, rose hips, and anis seed.
All of this comes from nature without cost !

Reply

Betsy January 10, 2017 at 10:23

You might want to research harvesting before and after flowering. Many articles mention a risk when harvesting after flowering… Deane?

Reply

Green Deane January 10, 2017 at 12:28

There has been a lot of discussions about this and some plants are better consumed before they blossom. My perception with this species is not that they get more toxic but just too tough to use.

Reply

lica June 6, 2013 at 14:14

Is it OK to use the nettles in a salve after the nettle has flowered? Rather than ingesting it..can one still absorb the oxalates and have problems?

Reply

JC Sorell May 16, 2013 at 16:44

My favorite recipe for stinging nettle calls to harvest it young, but those of us who love nettles… they can be picked and eaten at an older stage if “only the very young tips of newest growth” is used. Once they have flowered and gone to seed, the whole plant is of very poor quality to eat anyway so why all the worry about kidney stones? I grow it in my yard. It is a perennial plant, and likes it’s dwelling place right in my walkway keeping dawgs and assorted “two legged” dears from entering where they shouldn’t. I simmer the freshly washed leaves gently using a bare minimum of purified water and a lid on the pot. Chop the leaves after cooking into much smaller pieces. Add one teaspoon margarine (not butter as it tastes horrid on nettles) and one heaping teaspoon of sour cream and a little freshly grated pepper, salt to taste. Added carmelized onions and sauteed morrels compliment the flavor. Use a food dehydrator to dry the leaves for a winter tea which is rich in iron and minerals. It’s really good for young women to drink to prevent anemia. Dehydrating stinging nettles removes the sting as does cooking them. I also throw some of the dehydrated nettles into cream soups for color and it’s mild spinachy flavor. It has a much more pleasant flavor and packs more nurtitional value than spinach. If I thought I could can it up I would. I may try it just to see what happens…but I’d hate to waste it if it didn’t work well. If you handle stinging nettle often enough the sting isn’t nearly as bad, and often is nothing more then a minute’s nuisance. If you have a sensitivity to it, wear long sleeves and snip it off using scissors catching it into a plastic bag. Once cooked there is no sting at all. Be sure to take off the long sleeved garment and place it right away into the laundry. Touching the garment to anyone sensitive like children can cause them to get stung right after harvesting even when they were no where near the nettles.

Reply

Seluna May 11, 2013 at 22:26

I just gathered some fresh nettles yesterday and made some tincture today. I will use it to treat greasy hair, the recipe is: 40 gr nettle tincture, 60 gr witch hazel water, 1/2 tsp of arnica tincture. Put in a bottle and use to massage scalp.
Also good for dandruff and inflammation of skin. Also used to help air grow back, may be due to a better blood circulation.
There’s another recipe in my book to strengthen hair,make an infusion with two hand fulls of finely cut nettles and let sit for 3 hours in 2 cups of water, filter and press them well to extract all the juice. Add 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. Rinse your hair with this mix after washing while you massage it. This rinse will make your hair shiny, and will strengthen your hair and skin. I think this is for dark hair.
There’s another recipe to make shampoo with 50 gr of tincture.
This is how I first used nettles many years ago, on my hair, and then later discovered how tasty it is as a vegetable.
I also have used it to protect plants from aphids and to enrich the soil with nutrients by letting the nettles go rotten in water for two weeks, filtering it and watering the plants we want to protect.
Great site, thanks.

Reply

Janis March 11, 2013 at 08:24

Have been looking for a topical medicinal benefit of this ‘herb’. No where can I find! Any information out there? It grows in abundance here and I have become acquainted with its sting. Yesterday and still throbbing. Nasty thing. I was gathering chickweed where the nettle was growing and accidently came in contact with it. I make herbal salves and wonder if this nettle is beneficial.

Reply

porche April 13, 2013 at 14:36

the only topical benefit I have heard/read of is for arthritis. However that is for the stings (as a counter irritant).
http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/stinging-nettle-000275.htm

Reply

Quiche May 25, 2014 at 21:14

Plantain – either broad leaf or lance leaf crushed or chewed and applied to the sting. It works wonders for most people. In our area the plants very often are found growing near each other, as many herbal cures are.

Reply

Carol January 20, 2013 at 12:02

Thanks for this. I’ve had a gut and bladder problem so uncomfortable I went to the doctor thinking I had a prolapse or something scary. After two days of not eating the nettles I had been eating all week, I’m improving. I only made the connection after reading this.

Reply

Jeff k January 15, 2013 at 19:45

regarding nitrate accumulation: “When accumulation occurs, the concentration of nitrate is greater in stems than leaves. Seeds seldom contain significant amounts. Rate of uptake diminishes with maturity; mature plants usually contain less nitrate than immature ones.”

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/livestk/01610.html

So by this reasoning, mature plants shouldn’t be more of a threat.

However, one symptom I’ve felt from ingesting mature nettle leaves is stomach upset. It could be the toughness of the leaves, but in my searches, I read that calcium chloride (which forms after calcium carbonate from the ingested cystoliths ionizes and interacts with hydrochloric acid in our stomachs) is mildly caustic and can be irritating for the stomach, esophagous or mouth. I wonder if this was the cause.

Calcium chloride is likely the diuretic element after eating nettles. Thus, a more mature plant, with its cystoliths, is more diuretic, and if this is an invitation for urinary tract infection, then that would explain it. I’m still not entirely sure about the relationship between diuretics and a urinary tract infection though.

Reply

Green Deane January 15, 2013 at 21:18

I am not a doctor but usually urinary tract infections increase with less urination, and decrease with urination… thus one would think diuretics would be good for said… it also lowers blood pressure.

Reply

Jeff k January 15, 2013 at 21:37

That’s what I thought. Hence, not much support so far from what I’ve read for urinary tract infections resulting from nettles 🙂

Reply

Zee-Man June 9, 2013 at 18:49

Just some conjecture here, when passing large kidney stones the urethra can get lacerated (this is the burning sensation when passing one). The laceration could be a path for infection. Increased urination would normally help with passing stone before they got large enough to do real damage. But if the stone were already large, then it might have a causal effect.

Reply

Jeff k January 14, 2013 at 20:26

Hey Greene Deane, I was wondering about why the flowering stage of the plant is said to be irritating for the urinary tract…

In several sources I’ve read, it makes that mistake you’ve pointed out of the cystoliths, appearing on older leaves by the flowering stage, being an irritant for the kidneys. But you and one other source I found point out that ingested calcium carbonate (from such cystoliths) cannot possibly end up in the same form in the kidneys.

So then, what about the stinging nettle after it begins to flower is responsible for urinary tract problems? Does the plant become more diuretic at this stage, possibly leading to such symptoms?

Reply

Green Deane January 15, 2013 at 09:54

I am not a chemist. My understanding is that oxalates combined with calcium to make kidney stones and the like. Calcium carbonate does not and in fact reduces oxalate absorbsion and stone formation. Perhaps the it is the higher nitrate level of older plants that is the problem (along with the fact they get tough.)

Reply

Jeff k January 15, 2013 at 19:10

Very cool, thanks for the reply.

Reply

pam January 5, 2013 at 22:01

Jewel weed is also a cure for the sting.

Reply

Green Deane January 6, 2013 at 20:32

Does not work for me.

Reply

Zee-Man June 9, 2013 at 18:44

I had never experienced stinging nettle. A friend showed me some, (one with a green stem, and one with a purple stem) with which I stung myself on the inner wrist. Crazy but I wanted to know what it might do. He also showed me jewel weed. I bruised the stem and expressed the gel onto the sting site. While it reduced the sting sensation it did not cure it.

Reply

Katherine July 30, 2012 at 18:46

Hey Dean – love your website! I must add a couple of my own notes on stinging nettles: nettle tea is actually very soothing to the urinary tract and bladder. I used to have consistent bladder problems but since I started drinking nettle tea regularly they have disappeared. As you have indicated, it IS a diuretic – so best to steer clear of it later in the day.

Secondly, I tried all manner of cures for the sting, and finally found one that works really well – take a small dish, pour in some milk, grab some paper towel and use it to baste the sting – apparently the milk (being alkaline) neutralizes the formic acid in the nettles? All I can say is it works!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: