The common stinging nettle, a widespread perennial, is the curse of many a bare-legged rambler or gloveless gardener! It is a prolific ‘weed’ that you can find in almost any habitat, from woodland to grassland, urban to arable. The stinging hairs, which are located all over the plant, are brittle and contain formic acid, so when broken by you or I accidentally brushing against the plant, they pierce the skin, allowing the poison to enter the wound and causing momentary irritation. Ouch!
Image via Wikipedia
Even though you may be cautious to have this fellow in the garden, it is an essential plant for life cycles of certain butterflies and moths, which lay eggs on the nettle and subsequently, emerging caterpillars use them as an essential food source. The parent butterfly or moth may use the same plant throughout the breeding season, so keep a small patch uncut in the hedgerow or long grass. Lacewings and ladybirds also use nettles as a vital refuge and a food source and happily keep the aphid population down in return!
Latin name: Urtica dioica
- Plant Height: 1-2meters in height
- Leaves: 3-5cms long, dark green with a serrated edge and hairy
- Flowers: Small and numerous. Green and brown flowers, which cluster along the stems, that sprout from the leaf joints
- Habitat found: Widespread and can be found in many different habitats
Nettles can tolerate most soil and shade conditions but do best in a rich and moist soil. Spreading via rhizomes, it can re-colonise a garden at rapid speed so if you want to try and contain a nettle patch, try growing it in pots or a raised bed.
Did you know…?
Nettles have long been used for numerous food and drink products, such as soup, tea and beer and once boiled to remove the stinging cells, tastes very similar to spinach with a high iron content to boot! The fibres of the plant were also extensively used and were spun to make cloth, making it a valuable plant to have in the garden.
Even though at one point or another, we have all come a cropper with our native nettle, cows love nothing more than to browse in nettle patches, as they are immune to the stinging hairs.