Monday, December 2, 2013

Pesky stinging nettles - such a valuable weed

This spring I pulled out loads of stinging nettle in my garden. Most people would be cursing at the stuff, as it is extremely prolific - but I can only rejoice. Nettle is such a versatile plant and can be used by the herbalist, gardener and cook.
                                                 A branch of nettle loaded with seed

Every part of the nettle plant is useful. In the garden nettle plants are important hosts for various butterfly larvae, and I'm always happy to have a good environment for insects. It is my belief that a good variety of weeds and herbs creates a balanced ecosystem, and fewer pests.

In phytotherapy (herbalism) nettle is a most valuable plant. The leaves, seeds and roots are used. The leaves are used as a tonic, anti-histamine, liver tonic, kidney tonic, iron tonic, to mention just a few uses. It should however, be used under the supervision of a phytotherapy practitioner, as it can cause an allergic reaction in some sensitive people. The seeds are used for kidney problems and the roots are used in the treatment of benign prostatic hypertrophy. Cutting the roots off hundreds of nettle plants is quite a job. Most people would never realise quite how much work goes on behind the scenes of a phytotherapy practice.

Dried nettle roots

Historically nettle stems have been used to make a cotton-like cloth, but I think I'll give knitting with nettle a skip. But it's an easy job to make a wonderful rich fertilizer with nettle. Once I've removed all the roots, I dunk the entire nettle plants into buckets of water and wait until the resulting brew stinks nicely. I don't dilute it as everyone says you must, but use it neat on tomato plants and other vegetable plants. Nettle is also a great compost activator, and I like to put it in a drum with other weeds to make a rich tea for the garden. One of my clients who has a wine farm, sprays his vines with nettle tea to fertilize them.

As a food, nettle is a wonderful addition to soups, stews and even your dog's food if you cook for your dog. It has a very high protein content and is very rich in vitamins and minerals, especially iron and calcium. Some farmers add nettle to their feed for cows, as it encourages milk production.

So next time you feel overwhelmed by nettles, think of all the things you can do with them, even if it is only to put them on the compost heap!


  1. Connie, I am just wondering, is it true that a drink made of nettle leaves is better than chlorella, green barley and similar modern, expensive herbs?

    1. Hi friend! I don't think nettle as a raw juice is a good idea, because it can cause an allergic reaction. Rather make a tea. Nettle tea is very rich in minerals and energising.