Stinging Nettle Greens: Tips For Growing Nettle Greens In The Garden
By: Amy Grant
Stinging nettle greens have been used for centuries to treat joint pain, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. For many people, a bracing cup of nettle tea is still a panacea for a wealth of health issues. It’s no wonder since stinging nettle greens are loaded with antioxidants as well as lutein, lycopene, and iron. The health benefits aside, stinging nettles are also delicious. How to grow stinging nettle greens in the garden then? Read on to learn more.
How to Grow Stinging Nettle Greens
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) are one of more than 50 varieties of nettle plants worldwide. A distant mint relative, stinging nettles are equally invasive and need to be sternly managed.
Stinging nettles are an herbaceous, fast growing plant with leaves as well as stems, which are covered with tiny, hollow silica tipped hairs and can grow to about 4 feet (1 m.) tall. They developed the stinging hairs to discourage animal from feeding on them. If you aren’t interested in growing stinging nettles to ingest, you might still want to grow them to deter deer from nibbling on your other plants or to use as fertilizer.
Start seeds inside about four to six weeks prior to the last frost free date for your area. Plant one to three seeds in peat pots filled with potting soil. Lightly cover them with ¼ inch (1.25 cm.) of soil. Keep the growing stinging nettle seeds moist. Germination should occur by about 14 days.
You may also direct sow nettle greens in the garden. Choose a spot that has rich, moist soil a little ways from any other herbs. Seed in the spring in rows that are an inch apart and keep the area moist.
If you started your nettle inside, transplant the growing nettle greens into a prepared garden bed, spaced at least 12 inches (30 cm.) apart.
Harvesting Nettle Greens
Your nettles will be ready to harvest between 80-90 days from seed. The best time to harvest nettles is the first few weeks of spring when the leaves are young and tender. The plant will be under a foot in height.
Pick the first two or three pairs of leaves from the top of the plants. You can continue to harvest through the summer, but the stalks and stems will be very fibrous, so just take the top few pairs of leaves.
Be sure to wear gloves and lots of clothing. In fact, dress as if you are going into battle before harvesting nettle greens. Otherwise, the tiny hairs will embed themselves into your skin, making life pretty uncomfortable. Those tiny hairs contain several chemicals that cause a burning, stinging feeling that can last for hours.
Use sharp scissors or garden shears outside and handle the nettles with tongs in the kitchen. Cooking the nettles will obliterate those pesky hairs.
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How to Grow Nettle | Guide to Growing Nettle
In medieval Europe Stinging nettle was used as a diuretic (to rid the body of excess water) and to treat joint pain. Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate, for urinary tract infections, for hay fever, or in compresses or creams for treating joint pain, sprains and strains, tendonitis, and insect bites.
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Nettle is an herbaceous, quick-growing plant whose leaves and stems are covered with tiny, hollow, silica-tipped hairs which can cause irritation. Can grow to a height of approximately 4'.
Nettles prefers rich soil with good moisture content and especially favors the edges of streams or nutrient-dense pastures.
Nettle seeds are tiny, light dependant germinators that can be started indoors or out. However, select your location carefully as nettles are very hardy and can spread quickly with the right conditions. Nettles can be assisted with stratification, but it is not necessary.
To start, tamp the small seeds lightly into the soil or cover with a thin layer of soil (1/4"). If starting indoors, sow in flats in late winter and transplant in early spring. Space plants approximately 8" apart. If direct sowing, seed in spring and thin as desired and plant rows 1" apart.
It recommended to find a permanent spot with rich, moist conditions a little away from (or on the periphery of) your other herbs.
Heirloom seeds are the gardeners choice for seed-saving from year-to-year. Learning to save seeds is easy and fun with these books. Before you harvest, consider which varieties you might want to save seeds from so that your harvesting practice includes plants chosen for seed saving. Be sure to check out our newest seed packs, available now from Heirloom Organics. The Super Food Garden is the most nutrient dense garden you can build and everything you need is right here in one pack. The Genesis Garden s a very popular Bible Garden collection. The Three Sisters Garden was the first example of companion planting in Native American culture. See all of our brand-new seed pack offerings in our store.
Plants→Urtica→Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
|Plant Habit:||Herb/Forb |
|Life cycle:||Perennial |
|Sun Requirements:||Partial or Dappled Shade |
|Water Preferences:||Mesic |
|Plant Height :||6'|
|Flower Color:||Green |
|Bloom Size:||Under 1" |
|Underground structures:||Rhizome |
|Uses:||Dye production |
|Edible Parts:||Leaves |
|Eating Methods:||Tea |
|Dynamic Accumulator:||K (Potassium) |
|Wildlife Attractant:||Butterflies |
|Propagation: Seeds:||Self fertile |
|Conservation status:||Least Concern (LC) |
These are my personal views on growing plants and a little overview of some European wildflowers
Introduced from Europe, but now commonly found growing wild in the Pacific NW and throughout much of North America. Most animals will not eat fresh nettle (donkeys will). If dried in the sun, the sting/poison is destroyed and it can then be fed to animals. Cows will produce more milk, chickens will have a higher egg production, it will fatten poultry, and may be used as a tonic for weak horses. Beware of the sting - rubbing dirt on it is always my advice to kids, or if there is a sword fern or dock nearby that also helps. The tip of the stinging hair breaks off with the slightest contact, leaving a sharp point that easily pierces skin and acts as a miniature hypodermic needle, releasing its fluid into the flesh. I have found it will often pierce thin gloves.
May be used as self-help for arthritic pain: http://jrs.sagepub.com/content.
"If they would drink nettles in March / And eat mugwort in May / So many fine maidens / Would not go to clay."
The first Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) I had came from a friend, who shared plants she originally got from a nursery. Later I bought seeds of Urtica dioica and grew some from those. This is the most popular herbal nettle which has been used for centuries by mankind. It is native to the temperate regions of Europe and Asia and various other places. Most likely brought to the U.S. by those who settled here and brought their herbal seeds. It has naturalized in many areas, joining the native stinging nettles, such as Urtica chamaedryoides. Nettle leaves are considered to be among the most valuable herbal remedies. Among its many nutrients are vitamin C, iron, vitamin K and Boron. It's used as a general tonic and to treat allergies, congestion, anemia, arthritis, Osteoporosis, dental plaque and is used in commercial hair conditioners. It requires care to collect the plant, however, as it can sting. I just use gloves or tongs to collect some for my tea. Once in hot water, it loses all stinging tendencies. Also, once it is dried it is harmless also. It can even be chopped up and added to food while cooking. Collect the fresher leaves.
Stinging nettle leaf has a long history (from ancient Greek times) as a diuretic and laxative.
Stinging nettle root has been used for urination problems related to an enlarged prostate as well as for joint ailments and as an astringent. The above-ground parts are used for allergies, hayfever, and osteoarthritis.
Some people use the above ground parts for internal bleeding, including bowel bleeding, uterine bleeding, and nosebleeds. Above ground parts have also been used for anemia, spleen problems, circulatory problems, excess stomach acid, diarrhea, dysentery, asthma, lung congestion, rash and eczema, cancer, wound healing, and as a general tonic.
Above ground parts are sometimes used as a poultice applied to the skin for muscle aches and pains, oily scalp, oily hair, and hair loss.
Young stinging nettle can be eaten as a cooked vegetable.
In manufacturing, stinging nettle extract is used in hair and skin products.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you are using any OTC herbs like this in order to prevent possible adverse interactions with some medications.
If stung by plant the spores of the western sword fern can be rubbed on area to relieve pain.
Mud also relieves pain
Growing Nettles as a Cash Crop
When we moved to our new farm two years ago, we discovered growing nettles in several patches across the property. I’d heard how wonderful nettles were, so with a pair of surgical gloves and a quest for adventure, I set about harvesting my first nettle crop.
That first harvest turned me into a lifelong fan of nettles. They have to be steamed, cooked or dried before eating, but food made with nettles tastes so amazing. The leaves aren’t the only part of the plant that is useable, though, and that’s part of what makes growing nettles for profit such a sure winner.
One Plant, Three Crops
Nettles are harvested throughout the growing season. In the spring and early summer months, you can harvest nettle greens several times. Heading into late summer, the seeds are an important medicinal crop with a good demand. In fall, the roots are dug and sold as yet another–and the most profitable–medicinal part of this wonderful plant. Here’s Skeeter, a renowned permaculture instructor, telling us why he likes growing nettles as a cash crop:
As a bonus, you can create cordage from nettle plants, though the market for that is not as established. For a sustainable small farm, however, it’s an interesting additional product to grow.
Getting Started Growing Nettles
Nettles are easily propagated from root cuttings, so if you have access to a wild patch, this would be the most cost effective way to get started. If you can’t find a local patch, several online seed companies sell stinging nettle seeds – Baker Creek has 800 seeds for $2. You can start them indoors or broadcast seed a prepared area.
Nettles are prized for their high nutrient value. They accumulate minerals and micronutrients from the soil and produce high levels of vitamins in forms that are easily accessible to the human body. Indeed, many of nettle’s medicinal properties may stem from its ability to fulfill the body’s nutrient requirements. Once properly supplied, the body can then take care of itself.
The following numbers represent milligrams, unless otherwise stated, for every 100 grams of dried nettle. Nettles are excellent sources of calcium (2,900), chromium (0.39), magnesium (860), silicon (1.03), and zinc (0.47). They are high in manganese (0.78), phosphorus (447), potassium (1,750), riboflavin (0.43), selenium (0.22), thiamine (0.54), vitamin C (83.0), B complex vitamins, and vitamin K. Nettles also contain a good amount of fiber (11%), fat (2.3%), iron (4.2), and niacin (5.2), and they are high in vitamin A (15,700 IU) and low in sodium (4.90).
The Grow Network now offers organic bulk herbs—including stinging nettle—in our store. Click here to get yours!
Dried nettles are 25.2% protein, 2.3% fat, and have only 0.6 calories per gram. Fresh nettles are also a good source of chlorophyll.
You Grow Girl
The little patch of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) that I’ve got at the back of my garden is starting to emerge from its winter dormancy. Years ago, when I was first “bit” by this plant, I never could have imagined that one day I would grow it in my garden, or that I would be jumping up and down and clapping enthusiastically upon its first appearance each spring. Oh, how things change.
For those who have yet to experience the sting in the nettle, it may be difficult to comprehend how such a benign looking plant can be such a terrible menace, yet powerful healer rolled into one. Touching the plant creates a painful bite that radiates out from the place of contact. The pain reminds me of an ant bite. A sting may originate with your finger, but depending on the potency of the plant, you can sometimes feel its effect up into your arm. And it lingers. There have been times when I’ve felt the buzzing for hours afterward. Friends have told me stories about running through fields as children, their bare legs ravaged by contact with the plants.
My own first experience with stinging nettle was years ago while browsing books along Harbord, a street in Toronto that was once known for an abundance of quality used book shops. I have a sensory impulse towards plants and flowers that sometimes gets me into trouble. I find it especially difficult to walk past an herb without touching and then lifting my hand to my nose to take in the scent. During the growing season I must carry out this involuntary action dozens of times per day as I travel the length of my own garden, reaching, grasping, and inhaling as I move. That day on Harbord Street, I approached a cluster of herb seedlings that had been set out for sale. And, as is my way, I reached out to touch and smell the plants, almost without thinking. One plant had the textured appearance of catnip, and in one quick, involuntary action, I reached out and brushed a leaf between my fingers and quickly brought the hand up to my nose. There was no smell, but there was something else. Something foreign and surprising. “Pain! My god, the pain!” I was shocked and a little bit outraged. “What in the wha… is happening?” A quick glance at the tag and I knew this was not catnip. This was something else entirely.
Having made such a strong first impression, I was quick to do some research to learn about this demon plant and why on earth anyone would want to purchase and grow it. The first bits of info I gleaned referred to its use as a remedy for rheumatoid arthritis. Sufferers make contact between the fresh leaves and their swollen and stiffened joints to help ease the pain and swelling. [Mother Earth News has a good article about this.] I also read about how priests used it for religious rites — i.e the urtication referred to in the plant’s Latin name.
These late-season plants have started to produce flowers and seeds. They are not good for eating, but can be used to make a nutrient-rich fertilizer tea for your potted plants.
How I Grow, Harvest, and Use Stinging Nettle
Eventually, I learned that along with dandelion, chickweed, and a host of common “weeds,” stinging nettle is a fantastic dynamic accumulator, a plant that pulls nutrients and minerals up from the soil into their leaves. This makes them a powerfully nutritive spring tonic, as well as a free source of fertilizer for other plants. In the early spring I forage small quantities from wild locations as well as harvest from my own garden.
I never intended to grow nettles at home. Finding a safe, out of the way space where I wouldn’t be stung is tricky in a small, urban yard. And nettles spread. A lot. My patch got started a few years back when a volunteer appeared in the pot of a small tree I had purchased. I couldn’t toss it into the composter and ended up planting it into a small, raised bed near the back fence where there is summer shade once the tall and thick clematis vines come in. A few years later and they’ve pretty much commandeered the box. In the wild I often find nettles growing in the moist soil adjacent to waterways. I don’t have any creeks or ditches running through my urban plot, but the plant is quite adaptable and doesn’t seem to mind roadsides and wastelands as long as the soil has decent nitrogen content. I’ve had little trouble keeping it happy within the boundaries of a raised bed. I just make sure to replenish the soil each spring with a layer of compost. My friend Laurie grows it in a big pot on her roof and says that she’s had trouble with powdery mildew. I think the problem here may be that the plant’s greedy roots overgrow the pot, creating problems with air circulation, drought, and nutrient loss. My suggestion to avoid this problem is to upend the container at the end of each season and pull out the excess roots. Stinging nettle is a hardy plant so as long as the pot is not made of a breakable material, it can stay outdoors year-round.
My patch as it emerged in early spring of a previous year. Today it spans much more than a corner.
When harvesting, it is important to be aware that only the young, fresh tops are good for consumption. Older growth can irritate your urinary tract and kidneys. However, if you pinch back the new growth, you can get multiple harvests from the same plant. I recommend carrying out this procedure while wearing leather work gloves! I’ve found that regular gardening gloves will not prevent the sting from reaching your skin. A long-sleeved shirt and pants are also recommended. All it takes is one brief brush against a leaf to set off a painful reaction.
If you do get stung, there are several common plants that tend to grow nearby stinging nettle that can help alleviate the pain. What works seems to vary for each person. I always have success with plantain (Plantago). I prefer to use this plant because I have a close affinity for it. Plantain is edible (and a medicinal in its own right), so I simply pop a clean leaf into my mouth and chew it to get the juices flowing. Then I apply it to the sting. Most people swear by the crushed leaves of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). This plant is soft and can be easily crushed between your fingers. Yellow dock (Rumex crispus) is said to work, but I’ve never tried it. Aloe gel works as well, and so does baking soda mixed with water, but you’re not likely to have one of those on hand if you’re out foraging in the back of beyond.
Back in the kitchen, I use some of the fresh leaves to make nettles soup, nettles frittata, steamed nettles, and nettles pesto (I steam the leaves first). The sting is completely removed by cooking or drying the plant. Again, leather gloves are recommended during handling. The rest is hung to dry and brewed as an herbal tea. Nettles are considered a blood purifier and tonic. It is high in iron, vitamin c, and other minerals. Nettle tea is most often often recommended for women during menstruation to help boost iron levels and prevent anemia. It is also said to have an antihistamine effect and can be drunk to help alleviate seasonal allergies.
Cutting late-season nettles back to make fertilizer tea.
I don’t let any of the plant go to waste. The hard stems are set aside and soaked in water as a compost tea, which I feed to my potted plants. I pour the sloppy, stinking plant matter that remains back into the garden. Once it has started to produce flowers, I give the patch a hard haircut, but only use this inedible plant matter to make more fertilizer tea for the garden.
To Learn More About Stinging Nettle and Its Uses: I suggest books such as Wild Food by Roger Phillips, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild and Not-so Wild Places by Steve Brill, and Backyard Medicine by Julie-Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal.
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