Nettles (Urtica sp.) are prevalent throughout most parts of the world. In North America or Europe, the most prolific variety is the species Urtica dioica, which most people refer to as stinging or common nettle. The plant literally stings when touched, causing contact dermatitis – although nettle has a rich ethnobotanical history of being intentionally used in this manner). More commonly, the plants are harvested with protective gloves and then dried or cooked, which renders the stingers inert and ready for use as a nutrient rich tea or food. The dormant stalks can also be harvested and used to make relatively strong cordage.
These plants thrive in riparian zones and under the dappled shade of forest canopies, where I’ve seen them reach nearly two meters in height. However, I’ve also seen them happily thrive on lawns in rainier and colder climates. When we first started them in our farm’s Mediterranean climate, there was some skepticism about whether they could actually thrive here. (I’d only seen the much stubbier annual Urtica urens, which is a common farm weed and has a poor, straw-like flavor). However, we’ve now successfully established stands under full sun – although note, they do need substantial water to survive extremely hot summers.
120 days from seed to establish a stand with harvest potential. Nettle is perennial and has a rhizomatic growth habit. Can be propagated via cuttings, but also think about a containment strategy once established. We trim the edges of our stand back with a weed eater to prevent it from spreading to unwanted places on the farm.
How to Grow and Care for Stinging Nettle
David Beaulieu is a landscaping expert and plant photographer, with 20 years of experience. He was in the nursery business for over a decade, working with a large variety of plants. David has been interviewed by numerous newspapers and national U.S. magazines, such as Woman’s World and American Way.
Debra LaGattuta is a gardening expert with three decades of experience in perennial and flowering plants, container gardening, and raised bed vegetable gardening. She is a Master Gardener and lead gardener in a Plant-A-Row, which is a program that offers thousands of pounds of organically-grown vegetables to local food banks. Debra is a member of The Spruce Gardening and Plant Care Review Board.
The Spruce / Lindsay Talley
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a fast-growing herbaceous perennial that is usually regarded as a weed but is occasionally grown as a garden plant. Erect stems growing three to seven feet tall are lined with soft-green pointed leaves with serrated edges. The leaves and stems are covered with fine hairs, some of which have the troublesome habit of detaching and injecting a burning, stinging chemical when the plant is touched or eaten. While most gardeners treat stinging nettle as a noxious weed, it is sometimes planted deliberately because it serves as food for the larva of several butterflies, and when cooked, the leaves have a similar taste to spinach and are quite high in vitamins A and C and contain good levels of other nutrients.
Stinging nettle is a fast-growing plant; young plants reach maturity by mid-season when planted in the spring. This plant is mildly toxic to humans and of variable toxicity to pets.
|Common Name||Stinging nettle, common nettle, burning grass|
|Botanical Name||Urtica dioic|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||3–7 ft. tall, 1–3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Rich, moist|
|Soil pH||Acidic to alkaline (5.0 to 8.0)|
|Flower Color||Greenish white|
|Hardiness Zones||4 through 10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe and Asia, but now naturalized everywhere|
|Toxicity||Mildly toxic to humans, pets|
Stinging Nettle Care
Stinging nettle is easy to plant by dividing an existing patch of roots and planting the pieces where you want it to grow Or, you can collect the seeds and sow them indoors a few weeks before the last frost—or simply direct-sow the seeds in the garden. As befits a plant with a reputation as a weed, stinging nettle is very easy to grow and has very few disease and pest problems.
If you’re working with a stinging nettle plant in your garden, always wear protective clothing. This includes thick gardening gloves, as well as long sleeves and pants. Avoid touching your face as you work.
Because of its ability to spread vigorously from underground stolons, stinging nettle is considered an invasive species in much of North America—gardeners are more likely to fight it as a weed than to plant it intentionally. Growing stinging nettle deliberately may make you unpopular with neighbors, as it will readily spread unless carefully attended.
Stinging nettle is especially fond of rich, moist soil, so gardens can become overrun with this plant unless you are careful. You can keep in check by removing the flowers as they appear to prevent self-seeding. Regular harvesting will also keep the plants under control. At the end of the season, the leaves and stems of stinging nettle make a good nitrogen-rich addition to the compost heap, but it’s best to avoid adding the flowers and seed heads to compost.