Posted on Leave a comment

Why Does the Nettle Bite?

Most people label nettle as an unfriendly plant that grows everywhere and bites you like an “electric weed”. As the English says “stinging nettle stings”.

Common nettle or stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) belongs to the genus Urtica. The latin name derived from “uro” or “urere”, to burn, referring to the burning properties of the fluid it contains. The ability to sting is due to the fine hair-like structures covering the stems and leaves of the plant. Nettle is well armed by these hollow hairs and their swollen base contain a cocktail of chemicals, such as serotonin, histamine, folic acid, acetylcholine, moroidin, leukotrienes and formic acid. These hairs are very brittle and break easily. It’s an important adaptation for the plant to deter nibbling predators and humans also. Without these painful stings, everyone would eat poor nettle.

Painful as are the consequences of touching a common nettle, they are far exceeded by the effects of handling some of the East Indian species. The pain extends and continues for many hours or even days. In case of the Indonesian Urtica urentissima, the burning pain lasts for a year, they call it the “devil’s leaf”. Fortunately, we grow the much kinder and well behaved nettle in Europe.

Because nettle will lose its irritant powers during cooking, the young shoots may be used for culinary purposes. Luckily, dried nettle is perfectly stinging-free too.

So, don’t let the stinging hairs scare you away from this incredible herb!

Posted on Leave a comment

The Anatomy of Nettle – A Little Botany

A detailed description of this familiar plant is hardly necessary. Its heart-shaped, finely toothed leaves tapering to a point, and its green flowers in long, branched clusters springing from the axils of the leaves are known to everyone. The soft, green leaves are 3 to 15 cm long and are borne oppositely on an erect, wiry, green stem.

Common nettle or stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) belongs to the genus Urtica. The latin name derived from the word “urere”, ‘to burn’, referring to the burning properties of the fluid it contains. The specific name of the plant, “dioica”, means ‘two houses’, referring to being a dioecious plant. The flowers are incomplete: the male flowers have stamens only, and the female flowers have only pistil or seed-producing organs. Usually a plant will bear either male or female flowers.

The flowers are adapted for wind-pollination. The nettle flowers from June to September. The plant reaches a height of 1 to 2 meters, dying down to the ground in winter. Its perennial yellow roots – rhizomes and runners – are creeping, so it multiplies quickly, making it difficult to get rid of.

The whole plant is covered with stinging hairs. Each sting is a very sharp, polished spine, which contains the venom, that causes irritation for a touch. The burning property of the juice is dissipated by heat, enabling the young shoots of the nettle, when boiled, to be eaten.