Weedy Wednesday - Stinging nettle

This week's plant in our Wednesday Weed series is the stinging nettle. Fierce, invasive but full of goodness.

stinging nettle

In this weekly series, we take a quick look at common garden weeds. How they grow, what benefits they bring to the garden, and how to manage them. Organic growers recognise the importance of these native plants. Insects and birds need the flowers and seeds – and gardeners, cooks and herbalists can harvest some nutrient rich foliage.

We hope that this snap-shot view of bindweed, dandelion, nettle, bramble, thistle, goosegrass, plantain, fat hen, dock and yes, even ground elder, will help you to live with them. We also give advice on how to compost weeds. You may not love them, but you certainly won't be tempted to reach for the toxic weed-killer.

For more detailed information on over 100 individual weeds, go to the superbly researched Weeds List, and here for how to manage them.

Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica

What: The common nettle is abundant throughout the UK. Children and gardeners soon learn to recognise its upright spikes and dark green leaves in order to avoid the painful sting. This comes from the hollow hairs, called trichomes, on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation on contact.

Habit: This perennial weed likes a soil high in nitrates. It flowers for several months from May to September. Plants bear only male or female flowers that are usually wind pollinated. Seeds can germinate immediately on a bare soil in full sunlight, or can remain viable for up to 5 years. The tough distinctive yellow roots creep extensively, with horizontal shoots developing a short distance below the soil surface. New roots are formed in late summer or autumn from older rhizomes or from the stem bases of aerial shoots. These shoot tips may die back if frosted, but the plant overwinters underground.

Benefits: Dried nettles provide excellent fodder for farm animals with a high protein content. Despite the stalky nature it is easily digested. The flowers are a good source of pollen and nectar for butterflies. Humans also enjoy eating the nettle - when young and tender. It has high levels of iron, calcium and magnesium. Cooking will destroy the sting! It is claimed the seeds are an anti-depressant. Fibres from the stem were used to make linen and ropes.

Controls: Remove the rootstocks as thoroughly as possible when nettle patches are small. The collected material should be burnt. Repeated hoeing will exhaust the roots eventually. In grass, regular cutting should effectively destroy the plant.

For further information on this and other weeds, go to the Weeds List, and here for how to manage them.