By: Ruud Kreton.
supplement of the article ‘Concerning poultry’ in this issue)
Stinging nettle is the
name given to common nettle “Urtica dioica” and garden nettle “Urtica
urens”. The generic name comes from the Latin word uro, which means "I burn." Originally from the colder
regions of northern Europe and Asia,
today this herbaceous shrub grows all over the world. Stinging nettle grows
well in nitrogen-rich soil and blooms between May and September.
dioica has a rather stout, ribbed, hollow stem which grows 2-4 feet tall.
The somewhat oval, long-stalked, dark green, opposite leaves are a few
inches long, with a rough, papery texture, and very coarse teeth. The leaf
tip is pointed, and its base is heart-shaped.
Nettles are covered
with tiny, nearly invisible stinging hairs that sting you because the hairs
are filled with formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine and serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine),
plus unknown compounds. The acid is the same acid ants have in their
saliva glands. When touching the nettles, the tiny hollow hairs break off
and release the acid which irritates the skin and causes white itchy spots
picture: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé- Flora von Deutschland Österreich
und der Schweiz. 1885, Gera, Germany
It is a perfect defence
mechanism, but not against all herbivores; some caterpillars just love
nettles! The Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma and Red Admiral
Butterflies lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves so the young will
have a meal as soon as they hatch. So the plant is also useful to wildlife.
difference between the two species is in this: Urtica dioica is a dioecious plant, with male and female
flowers growing on separate plants. The species name, dioica, means "two households" in Greek: By late
spring, some plants have clusters of tiny, green female flowers, hanging
from the leaf axils in paired strands. Other plants possess diagonally
upright male flower strands, poised at the tops of the plants, sometimes
producing so much pollen that the whole plant looks dusty. Flowers later
develop into seeds which are blown off the parent plant and grow nearby.
Stinging nettles also spread using rhizomes or underground stems that shoot
out to the side.
urens is annual and has male and female flowers on the same plant. They
spread by seeds. This nettle is much
shorter; the size tends to vary depending on the amount of light and
Nettles can be eaten by
humans and are very beneficial for instance to poultry. See article: Concerning Poultry.
Many of the homeopathic benefits of the nettles are due to the plant's very
high levels of minerals, especially, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium,
phosphorous, manganese, silica, iodine, silicon, sodium, and sulphur. They
also provide chlorophyll and tannin, and they're a good source of vitamin
C, beta-carotene, and B complex vitamins.
Nettles also have high
levels of easily absorbable amino acids. They're ten percent protein, more
than any other vegetable. Besides healthy qualities, nettles have some
culinary value as well; such as the old fashioned Dutch ‘Kruudmoes’ and
nettle soup. The English brew nettle beer and even nettle lemonade. Nettle
juice can be used as rennet in cheese-making.
In the old days,
nettles' long, fibrous stems were important in Europe
for weaving, cloth-making, cordage, and even paper. Native Americans used
them for embroidery, fish nets, and other crafts. You can even extract a
yellow dye from the roots.
Moreover: Stems and
leaves steeped raw in a bucket of water for 24 hours released the formic
acid into the water. The stems were then removed and the water used as an
organic pesticide and applied to plants with mites or aphids.
nettle leaves before they flower in spring. Collect them using work gloves,
and wear a long-sleeved shirt. The young leaves are the best part of the
plant. They come off most easily if you strip them counter-intuitively,
from the top down.
chop nettles wearing rubber gloves. Once you’ve cooked them a little, the
stingers are deactivated, and the plant becomes wonderfully eatable.
Altogether the nettle
is a stinging but valuable plant.