The Notorious Nettle

Listen to Susan’s Nettle Podcast

People who walk in the woods might be on the lookout for things that bite or sting. But did you know that you can be stung by a plant?

If you’ve been stung by a nettle (Urtica dioica), you probably haven’t forgotten the experience, and you may have avoided this notorious weed ever since. But over the centuries, the nettles has been a valuable wild herb. Next time you see a nettle, say “thank you.”


Nettles in Your Garden

As liquid compost, nettles make an excellent fertilizer. Pick them in spring (leather gloves recommended!) and pack them into a bucket with a lid. Add one-half gallon of water to each pound of nettles. Let sit for 2-3 weeks, stirring occasionally. Strain out the nettles and put them on the compost heap. Use the liquid as a fertilizer (1 cup nettle liquid to 10 cups water), on container and garden plants. In a stronger mixture (1 cup to 5 cups water), you can use it to spray aphids and black fly. The nettle itself is a food plant for butterflies.

Some tips on growing nettles in your garden (yes, on purpose).
“Friendly Stinging Nettles”—more growing tips, plus information about how the nettle “stings”

The Medicinal, Cosmetic Nettle

Nettles have been used for centuries to treat osteoarthritis, eczema, prostate problems, and dandruff. The leaves contain a natural histamine that may be useful in treating allergies. And nettle is said to make your hair shine and feel thicker and smoother. To make a hair rinse, collect 2-3 cups of nettle leaves (wear gloves!). Cover with water in a non-reactive saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and cool for use as a rinse after washing your hair.

The Edible Nettle

The nettle is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins. The young plants have been used in soups, stews, and as a spinach-like vegetable. In Scotland, oats and nettles were cooked as a porridge, and nettles were used to flavor and color cheese.

Got lots of nettles? Make beer!

Or cook up a batch of Susun Weed’s Nettle Stir-Fry

Stir up a nettle frittata, fettuccini with nettles, or potato-nettle soup. Yum!

The Fiber Nettle

The nettle stem contains pliable fibers that can be twisted and used as cordage or spun and woven to make smooth, supple nettle cloth. The nettle fibers can also be processed as paper. The leaves are used to make a green dye; a yellow dye is made from the roots.

Making nettle cordage, with excellent photosof the process.

Making nettle paper, with photographs and plenty of details (pdf).

Watch this brief video to see how to make fabric with nettles–fascinating!