Stinging Nettle


Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica L., Urticaceae) is a perennial herb that grows up to 2 m tall from a creeping rootstock. The stem is square, the leaves are opposite and sharply toothed, and both are covered with stinging hairs. The small greenish flowers are found in clusters in the leaf axils, with male and female flowers on separate plants.

History And Use

Stinging nettle was used by the North American First Nations people as a treatment for acne and eczema, for diarrhea, intestinal worms, and urinary tract infections. The tender tops were cooked for food and are an excellent source of chlorophyll, carotene and Vitamin C. The long fibres were used for cord, fishing line and sailcloth in Germany, Scotland and Norway during World War I. Nettle fabric has been found in burial sites dating from the Bronze Age. Today, stinging nettle is in demand as a treatment for non-cancerous prostate enlargement, for high blood pressure and urinary tract infections. It is used to treat skin eruptions and eczema, and freeze-dried as a treatment for hay fever.

Area Of Adaptation

Stinging nettle is common around sloughs, along stream banks, in waste places and moist woods. It prefers damp, rich soil, pH 6 - 7, in full sun or partial shade, and lots of moisture. Extra nitrogen will increase yields. Nettle is said to increase the oil content of valerian, sage, marjoram, mint and angelica if planted 1 nettle:10 of the other plant, and will activate decomposition in compost piles. It is distributed from central Alaska west across most of Canada and south into South America. In Manitoba it is found throughout most of the province.

Cultivation And Processing

Seeds of nettle are hard to germinate. Root divisions in the fall are the best method of propagation, using 4 in. (10 cm) pieces of root. The plants are harvested before they flower, while still tender, so the whole plant can be used. If the plants are larger and woody, only the leaves can be used. Two or three harvests are possible in a year. The plants should be kept in a dark place after drying (they are non-stinging after they are dried). Fresh yields of about 400 lbs/1000 ft2 (17,400 lbs/acre or 20,000 kg/ha) are expected.


1998 prices for nettle leaf were US$4.00/lb for non-medicinal use and US$9.80 - $27.15/lb for organically grown.

Worldwide demand for nettle was estimated at 100 tons in 1996.

Nettle is gaining popularity as a specialty tea for weight loss and maintenance. Clairol uses more than 40 tons/year as a hair conditioner. Health Canada has registered several "Herb and Natural Product" and homeopathic products containing stinging nettle.