Nettle (Urtica and Laportea species)

Nettle plantsNettle plants can grow several feet high and sometimes grow as shrubs. The leaves and stalks are arranged across opposite sides of the stem.  The leaves are elliptic, ovate, or circular.  The leaf blades typically have 3-5 veins (rarely up to seven) and are serrated or coarsely toothed.  They have small, inconspicuous flowers. Fine, hairlike bristles cover the stems, leafstalks, and undersides of leaves. The bristles cause a stinging sensation when they touch the skin.

Flowers of a nettle plantWhere to Find: Nettles prefer moist areas along streams or at the margins of forests. They are found throughout North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern Europe.

Edible Parts: Young shoots and leaves are edible. Soaking the plants in water or boiling the plant for 10 to 15 minutes destroys the stinging element of the bristles which allows them to be handled and eaten.  After the nettle has entered the flowering and seed stages, the leaves develop gritty particles called “cystoliths” which can irritate the urinary tract in some individuals.

This plant is very nutritious and tastes similar to spinach and cucumber when cooked.  It is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium.

Other Uses: Mature stems have a fibrous layer that you can divide into individual fibers and use to weave string or twine.

Flowers of a male nettle plant

Flowers of a female nettle plant

A cross-section of a nettle stem (it is hollow)

A young nettle plant

Nettle plant leaves

Leaves and flowers on a nettle plant

Nettle plant leaves surroung flowers

Nettle plant flowers

Color drawing illustrationg a Nettle plant and its components

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