Common Nettle - Urtica dioica

Main features

  • Grows in large patches in nutrient-rich areas

  • Tear-drop shaped toothed leaves in apposing pairs

  • Up to 1m tall 

  • Stems and leaves covered in modified hairs that sting bare skin

  • Flowers look like clumps of tiny green baubles

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Common Nettle - Urtica dioica

Edible plant - novice

Other common names: Stinging Nettles, California Nettle, Nettle, Nettle Leaf, Stinger

 

Scientific name meaning: Urtica is Latin in origin and means “to burn”. The Greek originating Dioica means “of two houses” and refer to nettles having both male and female flowers. One plant contains either just male or just female flowers

Season March - November

Habitat - where will I find it? Wasteground, woodland, hedgerows, roadsides, gardens anywhere with nutrient rich soil. Tends to avoid highly acidic areas. It is found in most temperate regions, and at higher altitudes in tropical climates

Description - what does it look like? Growing in large patches where found, Common Nettles grows up to 1m tall. It has pairs of teardrop-shaped toothed leaves growing in opposing pairs up its stem. The stems and leaves are covered in modified hairs that sting bare skin they touch lightly. The sting contains histamine, acetylcholine and serotonin, which cause the initial pain. The extended pain is believed to be down to oxalic and tartaric acid.
The tiny green flowers appear in early summer, and resemble a mass of green tiny green baubles. They are often mistaken for seeds, which follow and look very similar to the flowers to the naked eye. However, the seeds are much harder

Possible lookalikes The Small Nettle or Annual Nettle (Urtica urens) could be easily confused with Common Nettle. However, it is also edible (see also hazards). 
Many of the Dead Nettles (Lamium spp) could also be mistaken for Common Nettle. However, these lack stinging hairs

Use as a food Common Nettle is widely thought of as one of the most nutritious foods in the world. It is rich in minerals and vitamins, has a high protein content and is also easily digestible.
The sting needs to be neutralised by heat or extreme cold before consumption, and only young leaves should be consumed (see Hazards).
Young leaves can be used as any other green and including in soups, pestos, stews, and breads, or used as a side dish. The young eaves can also be used to make a delicious refreshing cordial, jelly, or syrup. 
A decoction of the leaves can be used as a rennet substitute in cheese making, and beer can be made from young nettle shoots. The leaves can be used fresh or try to make a herbal infusion.
Nettles are a cut and come again plant, so cutting down before flowering will encourage regrowth of more young leaves

Use in herbal medicine Common Nettle has had many uses in herbal medicine including the treatment of hay fever, skin irritation, eczema, heavy menstruation, anaemia, arthritis, gout, neuralgia, haemorrhoids, rheumatism, acne, gout, chickenpox rash, urinary disorders, and enlarged prostate. 
There are various ways the treatments have been administered including consumption as a tea, decoction, tincture, foodstuff, or infusion, or by using the stings themselves directly on the affected area

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses Common Nettle has strong fibres and is used to make cordage by bushcrafters. It has also been used to make sacks, ship sails, and clothing

Hazards Older leaves, including those appearing after flowering, should not be consumed as these contain cystoliths – small gritty particles that irritate the kidneys. 
It is also thought Common Nettle can interfere with diabetes, hypertensions, depression, central nervous system, and mellitus medications. So, Common Nettle should be avoided in large quantities by people taking those types of medicine.
Large amounts of Common Nettle should be avoided in early pregnancy. It is often found in pregnancy teas and should be consumed in moderation until the second trimester, after which time it larger amounts can be consumed

Importance to other species Common Nettle supports many species, including around 50 species of insect incorporating many butterflies. It also attracts aphids, which are in turn feed on by ladybird larvae

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!