When I hear about stinging nettle, I think about the love-hate relationship I have with that plant. In its natural habitat, you have to be very careful to avoid the stings. Once you’ve managed to harvest it, you can make a vegetable dish out of it or consume it for its health benefits.
For a plant known as a notorious weed, the stinging nettle is quite beneficial, not just health-wise but in the garden. The sting it gives does make it a challenging plant though. However, the plant has numerous benefits that make it an important plant to have in your garden. And if you’re wondering what the stinging nettle is, I’ll take you through it. We’ll also look at some little fun facts as well.
What Is Stinging Nettle?
Scientifically known as Urtica dioica, the stinging nettle was initially native in Europe, Asia, and the Northern parts of Africa. It grows on all continents except the Antarctica and Arctic continents since these regions have extremely cold conditions. For centuries, it has been used for medicinal and food purposes. Back then, they relied on myths and believed that the plant could cure almost any illness. Fast forward to now. It’s still used for its medicinal purposes but more research is still being done to support its uses.
Fun fact: Did you know stinging nettle is used to make palatable beer? Check out this recipe.
So, what is stinging nettle? Well, it’s a green plant with hairs that could inject irritants such as acetylcholine and histamine once you touch them. Trust me; the feeling is extremely uncomfortable. If you’ve encountered one, you definitely know what I mean.
They typically grow just about anywhere hence being referred to as weeds. In this article, I’ll highlight essential factors about them that show they’re not just persistent weeds. Creating a conducive environment for the stinging nettle to grow and later harvesting them for use can prove to be extremely beneficial to your homestead.
How Can Stinging Nettle Benefit the Garden
Historically, this plant was seen as a source of medicine and food. Over time, medicine improved, rendering the plant almost useless as many people felt they would rather partake in modern medicine. Now, most people think of it as a weed. Because of its ability to flourish quickly, It can spread very fast, and most times, it overshadows any other plant around it.
Contrary to popular belief that the weed is a menace, I believe, under controlled environments, the plant can be grown, and its benefits maximized fully.
To begin with, the plant has a high nitrogen concentration. In a compost heap, the plant provides excessive heat for the decomposition of the compost pile due to its high nitrogen concentration. The result is perfect mulch for vegetables grown in the garden.
The stinging nettle plant supports the habitation of insects such as the larvae of butterflies. For insects such as the ladybug, the plant provides them with healthy nutrients. Ladybugs naturally control the pest population in a garden. The more stinging nettle plants you have in your garden, the more the ladybug insect is going to lay its eggs on the leaves, thus increasing their population in the garden,
Eventually, there will be an increase in the population of insects that are more beneficial to your garden.
Stinging nettle seeds are also food for other wildlife such as birds, among other living creatures in the garden.
- Liquid fertilizer
Organic fertilizer has always been the best way to provide nutrients to plants in your garden. Despite the pungent smell that comes from creating this particular fertilizer from stinging nettle and water, the various benefits of using it are worth it. It takes about 2-4 weeks to ferment the entire plant in water completely. After that, dilute it with water to use it together with mulch on various plants such as kale and spinach, which always need a nitrogen boost.
Ways to use it as a fertilizer.
There are two distinct ways in which you can make manure out of the stinging nettle plant. Both methods give out very beneficial results. There’s not much to be done, and as you’ll quickly learn, the procedures are pretty simple.
- Hot water
The quickest method involves adding hot water to several leaves that you just collected from your garden. Wear protective gloves when harvesting them. You don’t want to injure yourself by getting stings. In a bucket or barrel, add the leaves first, then pour the hot water all over them. Give the leaves some time to soak in hot water. As we know, subjecting any plant to heat removes any excess nutrients from the plant.
Strain the leaves from the water and use the remaining water on the crops in your garden.
- Liquid fertilizer
This involves the fermentation of the leaves. As I mentioned earlier, this involves leaving the leaves in water and occasionally stirring them from time to time until the bubbles no longer appear. You can make as much as you need depending on your needs or the number of vegetable crops you have in your garden.
The process is very smelly, and you are advised to do it at a safe distance, away from your house. Once you have confirmed, there are no more bubbles, strain the leaves from the liquid mixture and proceed to use it on the crops of your choice.
Be very careful, though. Plants such as tomatoes do not respond well to fertilizers rich in iron, and this liquid fertilizer might not be ideal for them. Pour the diluted mixture over leafy plants such as kale.
How Can Stinging Nettle Benefit Your Health
The stinging nettle is very beneficial to human health, from food to medicinal purposes. It has been centuries of using this plant for its healing properties, and I shall highlight just how beneficial it is to our health.
- The plant contains amino acids and nutrients that act as antioxidants in your body.
- Applying stinging nettle creams and consuming them may help reduce inflammations caused by arthritis. However, there is no sufficient study to support this as an anti-inflammatory treatment; therefore, use it with caution and alongside your doctor’s medical prescription.
- The nettle’s extracts are used in treating enlarged prostate glands. It is not sure how effective it is compared to modern treatment, but it sure does help.
- It may treat hay fever. Hay fever is an allergy that involves the lining of the nose. The nettle blocks the histamine receptors and prevents immune cells from releasing chemicals that cause an allergic reaction.
- Traditionally, stinging nettle was used to treat high blood pressure. Today that hasn’t changed as many people still use it to lower their blood pressure. It stimulates nitric oxide, which acts as a vasodilator. Vasodilators help relax muscles of the blood vessels and encourage them to widen. Stinging nettle also has elements that act like calcium channel blockers which relax the heart and reduce forced contractions.
- The plant contains compounds that may act like insulin. For people who have diabetes, stinging nettle may help lower and control those blood sugars. This does not mean it can be used as a replacement for modern treatment. More research is needed for this.
How to use it for food
Stinging nettle leaves are very delicious and used to make soups and eaten as a vegetable. In tea, you can use fresh or dried leaves.
As soon as you subject the plant to heat, the hairs lose the sting effect. And just like any other green leafy vegetable, the nettle is rich in iron.
You can prepare them however you like. All recipes can be found online.
Growing Stinging Nettle
Since they are wild plants, not much is needed to grow the plant. If you’re using seeds, identify where you’d like them to grow and scatter their seeds on the ground. In no time, you’ll notice the nettle overgrowing.
You may also choose to transplant its young plants from rhizomes or stolons.
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Last update on 2021-09-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
None is required. However, when controlling its rapid growth, you have to protect yourself from the sting by wearing protective wear.
During the late summer, cut down the flowering heads to reduce seed production.
Every so often, it is crucial to ensure that the plants don’t grow outside the stipulated area. Uproot all plants that have spread excessively.
When the plants are dormant during winter, it’s beneficial to cover the ground with mulch and ensure you lock in moisture and nutrients. This ensures the plants are well-tended throughout the year.
In areas with very little rainfall, ensure you water the plants to avoid them from completely drying out.
How Easy is it to Grow?
Stinging nettle is a wild plant and doesn’t take long to grow or spread. In instances where the plant died, the roots still push the stems and leaves through the ground. They have root runners, which give them the resilience needed in growth. This could both be a good and bad thing. Suitable because you are assured your plants will always survive and bad because, in situations where you control the growth and spread of these plants, they tend to be a menace.
Here’s a tip, use sheet mulching to prevent the roots from springing up a new plant. After uprooting the plant, roots and all, lay a sheet of cardboard on the ground. That will instantly send the young shoots back to the ground, and you can place anything heavier on the cardboard to ensure the plants don’t persist.
The plant grows in areas with disturbed soils. There are few requirements needed for its growth; thus, the plant has a high tolerance for most environmental conditions. As long as there is relative sunlight and moisture levels, the plant will flourish. However, it is essential to note that too much sunlight and humidity might encourage the plant to grow faster and spread further than anticipated.
Whether directly exposed or has partial shade, the plant does not mind and grows in areas with such sunlight conditions.
Well-drained soils, especially loam soil, are most suitable. However, the plant can tolerate very wet soils as well.
Stinging Nettle grows in mostly alkaline types of soil. pH with a reading of 5.5 to 7.5 is most suitable for its growth.
The plant thrives in grounds where nutrients are abundant. If your garden lacks a certain level of fertility, you should ensure that it gets the nutrients it needs to grow the stinging nettle.
Where to Grow it Safely
If you have plants such as the pawpaw trees, you can grow them beneath those trees to avoid predators from consuming the fruits. It’s also important to grow them in places where you would rarely contact them to avoid unnecessary stings from the plant.
To control the growth of these potentially harmful yet beneficial plants, you can opt to grow them in bags or pots which limit their growth or select a patch of land and create distinct boundaries around the marked location. This way, you prevent them from growing in the intended area.
One thing we have established is that stinging nettle can be quite harmful if not handled properly. Make sure you put on gloves and a long-sleeved shirt to protect your hands and arms from any stings.
The most appropriate time to harvest them is during the spring when their leaves are soft and tender.
Potential Problems To Be Aware of When Growing or Using Stinging Nettle
Despite its many uses, several concerns should be made aware while using the plant. The most insistent issue, as mentioned above, is the plant’s ability to grow and spread very fast. You have to keep monitoring it doesn’t end up growing all over your garden.
From its name, stinging nettle, it does sting, and to some people, the allergic reaction from the sting can be pretty serious. Consuming too much of the plant can cause a laxative effect. It is a medicinal use, but too much of something can always be very harmful. Consume the plant with caution.
Cystoliths is a compound found in older leaves and can potentially irritate the kidneys. That is why you should use tender leaves.
There’s a ton of information out there about the various benefits of consuming stinging nettle. Would you please research well and make sure you consult your physician before taking stinging nettle if you are unsure of whether or not you should consume it? Before using it, make sure you find very resourceful materials that base their knowledge on facts and not speculation or myth.
After reading this article, I hope you have found it very informative, and if you had a nasty attitude towards the plant, I hope I’ve helped you change it. Stinging nettles aren’t so bad in every way but you you do need to be aware of the issues.