Wood Nettle – Laportea Canadensis: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Nettliest of Wild Plants

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Wood nettle (laportea canadensis) is the most common native nettle in Ontario, and like the introduced stinging nettle it’s edible and medicinal. In fact, wood nettle is considered to be the favoured of the two.

Wood nettle (laportea canadensis) is common in open moist woods, low damp areas and wet swamps. I found a great patch along a stream between two swamps, near a large patch of toothwort and swampy spots smattered with swamp currant and mitrewort. Spring beauties and wild leeks were holding up well in the damp there too.

It can be hard to tell wood nettle and stinging nettle apart at first. Wood nettle has some alternate leaves, while stinging nettle only has pairs of opposite leaves. A couple common lookalikes are Canada clearweed (pilea pumila) and false nettle (boehmeria cylindrica), but the big giveaway is that they lack the stinging hairs.

Wood Nettle - Laportea Canadensis
Wood Nettle – Laportea Canadensis

Edible Uses of Wood Nettle

Wood nettle is considered the tastiest of the nettles. Young wood nettle shoots are much more like asparagus than stinging nettle. They come up about a month after stinging nettle and are best cooked. You can peel the skin or rub the stingers off the stems, but not the leaves.

The greens can be eaten through springtime, and further if you like a stronger fishy flavour. Steaming is most recommended to retain this unique flavour.

And the leaves can be used for tea anytime. Light cooking or drying the leaves first eliminates the stingers.

Wood Nettle - Laportea Canadensis
Wood Nettle – Laportea Canadensis

The seeds can be eaten too, in late summer and fall. Dry the clusters, winnow, and use same as flax seed.

Wood nettle is pricklier than stinging nettle once it matures. It can even go through clothing. Thick gloves are recommended.

Medicinal Uses of Wood Nettle

Wood Nettle is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Respiratory
  • Urinary

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

Common usage includes as an astringent tea for hemorrhoids and colon related issues. It sees a variety of uses like its close relation stinging nettle. As far as my herbal library goes it lives in the shadow of stinging nettle, or the partial shade at least. However, it often gets substituted and even preferred for the same uses as stinging nettle including respiratory allergies (to treat seasonal allergies; see more in our goldenrod feature) and pain relief.

If growing nettle for food or medicine, I’d go with this one for both its likely stronger properties and the fact it’s native.

Alternative Uses of Canadian Wood Nettle

The fibre in the stems can be used for cordage and netting.

Growing Laportea Canadensis

Here in Ontario, red admirals use nettles as a host plant. Comma and question mark caterpillars also feed on the foliage. And it’s food for more wildlife than these butterflies, and wonderful cover. If you have a moist, rich loamy spot in partial shade or on a forest floor, wood nettle is a great option for native plant landscaping and butterfly gardening. It’s wonderful along wet streams or ditches. It should be able to handle sun too, so no problem if your herbal garden is in full sun.

WARNINGS

The stinging hairs can go through clothing, so thick gloves are recommended if handling it.

And the Usual Cautions:

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

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

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. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.

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.

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REFERENCES

wiki/Laportea_canadensis

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

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