How to Grow and Care for Stinging Nettle

How to Grow and Care for Stinging Nettle

How to Grow and Care for Stinging Nettle

What is Stinging Nettle?

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows wild in many parts of the world. It gets its name from the stinging hairs on its leaves and stems that release chemicals, like histamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin when touched, causing an irritating rash. Stinging nettle has oval-shaped, dark green leaves with toothed edges and tiny greenish flowers. The plant can grow up to 6 feet tall.

While the stinging hairs make stinging nettle unpleasant to touch, when harvested and processed correctly, it has many uses and health benefits. Stinging nettle has been used medicinally for ages, dating back to Ancient Greece. Today, it is popularly consumed as a nutritious cooked green, herbal tea, and natural supplement.

Growing Conditions for Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle is relatively easy to grow. It thrives in the following conditions:

  • Soil – Rich, moist, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0-7.0. Amend clay or sandy soils with compost.

  • Sun – Partial sun to full shade. At least 4 hours of sunlight per day.

  • Hardiness – USDA zones 3-9. Cold hardy down to -40°F.

  • Water – Keep soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Prefers about 1-2 inches of rain or supplemental water per week.

  • Propagation – By seed, stem cuttings, division, or transplants. Stinging nettle self-seeds readily.

How to Plant Stinging Nettle

Here are some tips for planting stinging nettle:

  • Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before your last expected frost date. Sow seeds 1⁄4 inch deep. Thin seedlings.

  • Harden off transplants for 7-10 days before moving outside. Space plants 12-18 inches apart.

  • Plant in spring once danger of frost has passed. You can also plant in fall in mild winter climates.

  • Prepare a bed weed-free bed in partial shade with rich soil. Amend and rake smooth.

  • Water transplants after planting and mist leaves daily for the first week.

  • Mulch around plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Avoid touching leaves.

  • Seeds take 10-14 days to germinate. Transplants reach harvestable size in about 2 months.

Growing and Caring for Stinging Nettle

Proper care for stinging nettle includes:

  • Watering – Keep soil consistently moist but not saturated. Drought stress reduces yields.

  • Weeding – Mulch well to prevent weeds which compete for nutrients. Manual weed carefully.

  • Fertilizing – Side dress with compost tea or organic nitrogen fertilizer once mid-season.

  • Pinching – Pinch off top leaves frequently to encourage bushier growth. Use gloves!

  • Harvesting – Harvest often by cutting stems to encourage more growth.

  • Pests – Watch for slugs, snails, and aphids. Remove manually or use insecticidal soap.

  • Diseases – Leaf spot and powdery mildew can occur. Improve air flow and avoid wetting foliage.

How to Harvest and Use Stinging Nettle

To harvest stinging nettle:

  • Wear gloves, long sleeves and pants to avoid contact with stinging hairs.

  • Use scissors to cut first-year shoots when they reach 6-12 inches tall.

  • Avoid harvesting after plants flower as leaves get bitter.

  • Harvest shoots with leaves and tender tops either individually or cut the entire plant back to 2 inches.

  • Gather into a container, being careful not to crush leaves which can cause stinging.

Stinging nettle can be:

  • Cooked – Blanch leaves to remove stinging chemicals. Saute, steam or add to soups, stews and lasagna.

  • Dried – Hang bundles upside down or use a dehydrator. Store in airtight containers.

  • Made into tea – Steep fresh or dried leaves. Has many purported health benefits.

  • Processed into supplements – Freeze fresh leaves or extract juices to make capsules, tinctures, extracts, etc.

  • Used in hair and skin products – Contains vitamins and minerals that benefit hair, skin and nails.

So in summary, with some careful handling, the stinging nuisance stinging nettle can become a nutritious edible and herbal remedy in your garden.