Thursday, October 9, 2008

Who’d Grow Nettles?

Urtica incisa
There are a lot of good reasons for growing this antisocial plant. One is that it is the only host plant for this pretty butterfly, which is an Australian Admiral. When they rest with their wings up, these butterflies are not very conspicuous. This one which I found in my garden last week, wanted to bask in the sun, and did it long enough for me to get this photo. I wondered where it had lived, as a child.
I learned of another good reason for growing nettles from George, on a Toowoomba Society for Growing Australian Plants outing a few years ago.
George was insisting that stinging nettles were a Good Thing in compost heaps, but was a bit vague about the details, so I looked it up on the internet, and found that many people agree with him. Some put the leaves in their compost heaps, or make a compost starter by putting leaves and water in their blenders, then pouring it straight on the heap. There seems to be no general agreement as to whether the effect - speeding up the composting process -is due simply to the high nitrogen content of the leaves, or to some other ingredient.
Meanwhile, other people prefer to apply the goodness of the nettles straight to the garden. The TV show Gardening Australia provided this recipe:
Stinging Nettle Tonic: This plant is high in nitrogen so it promotes good leafy growth. Roughly chop up 1.5 kgs of stinging nettle and then add 4.5 litres of water. In a week or so this mixture will have started to ferment. The liquid can then be used diluted or undiluted as a foliar spray.
That’s two reasons. Here are some more:
3. The roots make a good yellow dye for cloth. Nettle roots were traditionally used in Russia for dying Easter eggs. They wouldn’t have been using our Australian species, of course, but the results are likely to be similar.
4. Nettles have been used as a material to weave into cloth. We’re not talking about any rough old cloth, either! Apparently is it quite silky, and makes better “velvet” than cotton does. It’s also used to make fishing nets, ropes and paper.
5. The tiny seeds can be crushes for their oil, which has been used in lamps.
6. It has some medicinal uses. Curiously, the custom of whipping oneself with nettle leaves was part of folk medicine both in Europe and in aboriginal Australia. The anti-inflammatory effect is supported by modern research, but can be more agreeably absorbed by drinking a tea made from the leaves (which are also high in rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium..
7. And you can cook it as a healthy vegetable, high in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Only leaves from the young plants should be eaten. Once the plant has flowered, some substances which irritate the urinary tract develop in the leaves (which probably give the plant its reputation as a powerful diuretic). Apparently it also contains serotonin, that substance which helps us to feel happy. (Serotonin is also found in chocolate, and is supposed to be the source of those chocolate cravings. Eat nettles, and do away with those unhealthy cravings!) The cooking kills the sting, and nettles can be eaten like spinach, or in soup. Try it in a recipe using potato, chicken stock, salt, black pepper, and sour cream.
Not to be confused with the very similar-looking introduced annual nettle Urtica urens, (not actually found in our area, so far as I know) the native nettle Urtica incisa has stems which die back to a perennial rootstock each winter. Growing naturally, they are an indicator of rich soil, so if you’re considering buying a block of land and notice nettles on it, you can buy with confidence knowing that it will be a good place to make a garden.
So those are the reasons for growing nettles.
Of course there is just one reason for not growing it...


msiagal1usa said...

I had nettle served in a dish in a fancy restaurant. It was really tasty and read more about it. I listened to NPR and there was an article today about eating wild greens, and nettle is mentioned. I haven't actually seen a plant in my garden so am not sure what is really look like to begin to eat it. Do you know where I can get a hold of seeds? Also, you can use comfrey leaves in compost too. Cheers

Patricia Gardner said...

Here in Australia you'd have no trouble identifying it. It's the one that stings! For several days, you would have a little patch of skin that reminds you that yes, you have indeed found the right plant.
However, I have no knowledge of USA plants, so perhaps you have other stinging things that it could be confused with. I feel sure there would be people in the USA who would grow it, though and could supply you with the right seeds. There would be no point in getting the seeds of this common weed from another country! It's probably a matter of searching around on the internet.
Cheers, Trish

Fernanda said...

I live in sydney and would like to buy the nettle plant, any idea were i might get it?

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Fernanda
The only place I've ever seen them for sale is at a place in the Brisbane River Valley. You can see their website at
If you contacted them, they might mail you some. (I'd suggest you
put in at least half a dozen plants).

Scotty said...

Please come to my house and take as many as you want for free, particularly the camouflaged ones that are mixed in with my tomatoes...

Patricia Gardner said...

Tomato and nettle soup, perhaps?

Jessica Hamze said...

Scotty! Ill pay for them. How can i reach you

Jessica Hamze said...

Scotty how can i reach you