Stinging Nettle – Urtica Dioica: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Misunderstood Prickly Wild Plant

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In Chippewa, bepadji’ckanakiz’it ma’zana’tig, stinging nettle tends to make a bad impression on first meeting, as the name suggests. But there’s way more to this needled edible and medicinal plant. The Chippewa name given refers specifically to the slender leaf subsp.

The sting never lasts long for me, but I’ve heard of it lasting for days for a rare unlucky few. It’s recommended you wear gloves to harvest stinging nettle. Or you can learn to pluck them carefully at the base without being stung.

If you are stung, juice from a jewelweed’s stem may help ease your pain. The felt that covers some fiddlesheads may also help. Dock too.

Stinging Nettle - Urtica Dioica

Edible Uses of Stinging Nettle

Early, tender young leaves and shoots of stinging nettle are a highly nutritious green to add to your diet that can be subbed in most recipes for spinach or kale – stinging nettle chips anyone? Or maybe some cream of nettle soup? But unlike these grocery variety greens, there is some preparation needed.

While the sting can be crushed or rubbed away, it’s generally recommended you freeze, dry, steam, boil, or otherwise cook nettles. Juicing also removes it.

If you barely cover it with water to cook it, the nettle tea that’s leftover is mineral rich. It’s one of the many grassy tasting teas which may be an acquired taste. (If you want an herbal tea that tastes more like chocolate, try chasteberry.) The tea works as a broth base too! It also makes a “rennet”, if you need to curd something.

The roots can be gathered autumn to spring and cooked as a starchy veg. Plants like wild parsnip, burdock, dandelion and stinging nettle try to invade my vegetable garden every year and I’m happy they do if only for the variety of root veggies.

Nettle beer and wine is also a thing, but not my thing.

High in vitamins A and C.

Medicinal Uses of Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Respiratory
  • Urinary

Medicinal tags include Antiseptic, Astringent, Diuretic, and Pectoral. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes nettle leaf tea for lung support. Nettle has been used for such a wide range of ailments, David Hoffmann said of it, “When in doubt, use nettle.” I’ve seen it used for everything from prostate support to “AllerBGone” tea to use as a hair tonic. Even nettle shampoo. This is certainly a plant to explore further!

One interesting though controversial use is as a counter irritant for rheumatism. Lashing yourself with nettles is also called “urtication”. For the same condition a tincture of nettle may help prevent uric acid build up, without needing to self-sting.

Alternative Uses of Stinger

Stinging nettle makes great cordage and woven fabrics. I hope to demonstrate in a Let’s Make.. this year, so stay tuned!

The roots can be boiled to make a yellow dye, and the chlorophyll can be used for green.

It’s also healthy for your compost pile.

Growing Urtica Dioica

All I did was start a garden, and wham, stinging nettle everywhere in my damp disturbed soil. If you get local cow manure you’ll likely end up with naturalized and sometimes aggressively spreading “superfoods” like nettle, burdock, etc. Searching old farmsteads for it or buying the seeds are also options.

Nettle has been highly cultivated in the past and can be approached as growing a crop; and similar to parsnip should probably be fully harvested to avoid spread into the wild. I don’t see it taking over entire swaths of land like parsnip though. And unlike parsnip it has a plus in that it’s a host plant for the red admiral butterfly. However, a better option is our native wood nettle. Our native wood nettle is favoured for food and medicine too!


Do not eat older plants uncooked as the crystals they’ve grown may cause urinary issues.

There’s a pregnancy and diabetes warnings based on animal studies, but it’s not given much weight. Rosemary Gladstar actually uses nettle in a pregnancy tonic, with red raspberry!

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Tom Brown’s Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants: The Key to Nature’s Most Useful Secrets

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

The Good Living Guide to Natural and Herbal Remedies: Simple Salves, Teas, Tinctures, and More

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Path to Wild Food

Ontario Nature Guide

Eating Wild in Eastern Canada: A Guide to Foraging the Forests, Fields, and Shorelines

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