Stinging Nettle Identification, Benefits, & Recipes (2024)

It’s late winter in the Pacific Northwest and signs of spring are already starting to show themselves. I’ve always enjoyed this time of year, the excitement of witnessing the Earth waking up from her wintertime slumber and the feelings of hope that brings. But despite the heartfelt joy, I often find myself struggling to move from the slower pace of winter hibernation to the quickening energy and longer days full of garden prep, housework, and other to-dos that piled up. Thankfully, I need to look no further than my trusty green ally, nettle, for support during this transition.

How to Identify Stinging Nettles

Urtica dioica may be most known for its sting which can strike the unsuspecting hiker or wildharvester, leaving a stinging tingle and accompanying red rash. This response is caused by hairs on the leaf and stem which contain formic acid. However, stinging nettle can be identified before a sting is ever experienced! Nettles tend to grow in patches in moist ecosystems including marshy habitats and along streams. Growing 2 to 8 feet tall, nettles are dark green in color with opposite, serrated, heart-shaped leaves. Nettle’s square stem could be confused for a member of the mint family; however, this herbaceous perennial belongs to the Urticaceae family.

Nettle seems to peak its head up from the damp, cool earth just as the transition into early spring commences. I love looking for the bright green budding leaves emerging on some of my favorite local hikes, noting their growth compared to last year and whispering words of encouragement and gratitude as I go along. I know that in a couple months, I’ll be returning to some of these well-established stands to responsibly (and carefully) harvestthe dark, green leaves.

Health Benefits of Stinging Nettle

Not only do nettles fortify my mental and emotional body as a harbinger of spring, but they also nourish my physical body with bountiful minerals and plant protein. Nettles are especially helpful after long periods of stress, like perhaps the winter holiday season or living through a pandemic for the last couple of years. If you do take nettles often and are constitutionally on the drier side like me, try adding some mucilaginous herbs to your daily brews like marshmallow leaf or malva.

Nettle helps to maintain upper respiratory health* and can even be part of a comprehensive program for many folks dealing with seasonal allergies. Considered a tonic herb, nettles are convenient to take in herbal preparations such as extracts, capsules, and infusions. The entire plant holds wellness-supporting properties, from leaf to seed to root.

Nourishing, with an affinity for the liver, this giving friend supports healthy urinary function and has a mild diuretic action*. The leaf is also used topically in skin and hair care formulations, including this hair rinse recipe. Historically, stinging nettle was used in urtication or the intentional flogging of the plant onto bare skin to stimulate blood flow. Not only could this method be useful in “waking up” the body after a long winter’s rest but may also help in stimulating sensations in the muscles for those brave enough to try.

A little less painful is nettle’s other historic use as a fiber commonly woven into cloth and cordage. Stinging nettle leaf has even been utilized as a vegetarian option to traditional rennet in cheese making.

Nettle Tea and Food Recipes

Not all nettles are created (or grown) equally, and I rather enjoy the natural variation found from plants growing in different bioregions. For example, the domestically cultivated nettles we offer at Mountain Rose Herbs brews a bright green and has a lighter flavor that I like to add in herbal tea blends. Comparatively, our European, wildcrafted nettles are darker in brew and taste, making them enjoyable as an infusion on their own.

try these time-tested Nettle tea recipes from our blog:

  • How to Make Nourishing Herbal Infusions
  • Mental Fog Lift Tea
  • Meditation Tea Blend
  • Calm Spirit Tea Recipe

Another beauty of nettles is that its rich, umami, and slightly salty flavor profile pairs well with many culinary herbs and is also a complementary ingredient in a variety of foods.

Try these nettle-inspired dishes:

  • Homemade Pesto with Nettles
  • How to Make Homemade Tortillas with Nettles
  • Nettle Leaf Buttermilk Biscuits
  • Kale and Nettle Chip Recipe

To me, nettles are reminiscent of a mother figure or big sister. Someone who is nourishing, prolific, and giving, but also isn’t afraid to put you in your place when you need it. Nettles have inspired my art, cooking, herbal formulations, and so much more. My love letter to nettles could continue but perhaps it’s better to leave it here and instead grab a cup of one of my favorite tea blends, Blossoms of Health Tea, which features nettles.

Ready to give nettles a try?

Learn How to Safely and Responsibly Harvest This Plant Ally

You may also enjoy:

Explore the Uses and Benefits of Slippery Elm Bark
Guide to Basic Herbal Actions

Stinging Nettle Identification, Benefits, & Recipes (4)

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications. For educational purposes only.

Stinging Nettle Identification, Benefits, & Recipes (2024)


How do you positively identify stinging nettles? ›

Stinging nettles are easily distinguished plants with a memorable sting. This plant, which can easily reach 6 feet in height, has fine hairs on the stems and leaves.

How do you cook stinging nettle benefits? ›

Young leaves can be used to make curries, herb soups, and sour soups. The root of the stinging nettle is used to treat mictional difficulties associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia, while the leaves are used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, and allergic rhinitis.

How do you prepare stinging nettle for medicinal purposes? ›

There are several ways to prepare the leaves once you've taken them home. You can wash and dry them by leaving them in the open air, or you can freeze-dry them for long-term storage. If you freeze the leaves, blanch them first. Boil them in water for 2 minutes, then soak them in ice water for 2 more minutes.

What part of the stinging nettle do you eat? ›

Roots, seeds, stems and young, tender leaves are all edible. Native Indigenous people use stinging nettle for medicine, ceremony and as a food source. Mature fibrous stems have been used to make rope, cloth and fishing net.

What happens if you eat raw stinging nettle? ›

These compounds can cause rashes, bumps, hives and itchiness. It might seem a bit scary, but fresh nettles can be eaten raw. But be cautious and be sure to neutralize the formic acid that can sting you. Use your teeth, blender, mortar and pestle, or juicer to crush nettle leaves and eliminate their sting.

How do you harvest and dry stinging nettles? ›

Harvest the nettles by cutting off only the upper leaves (no larger than about 3” wide). Check the undersides of the leaves to make sure there is no white spittle present. Since you want only the leaves, you'll save yourself a lot of effort later by cutting the leaves from the stems as you go.

What are the spiritual benefits of stinging nettles? ›

Nettle reminds us of our own resilience and power, allowing us to cope with bad situations and see a way out of problems, as well as making our emotions less overpowering.

Is stinging nettle edible? ›

So this month we'll feature a side dish, a green that is at its prime in early spring – the stinging nettle. Nettles are more than edible, they're delicious. As you can guess, they must be cooked, but it doesn't take much to neutralize the stinging.

What not to take with stinging nettle? ›

Antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs (blood-thinners) -- Stinging nettle may affect the blood's ability to clot, and could interfere with any blood-thinning drugs you are taking, including: Warfarin (Coumadin) Clopidogrel (Plavix)

How do you eat nettles safely? ›

Nettles need to be thoroughly cleaned and de-stung before eating. To do this, the easiest method is blanching them in boiling water and rinsing them afterward, squeezing out the water before sautéing them or adding them into soups or stews.

What is the spiritual meaning of nettles? ›

Nettle leaf has traditionally represented protection and the importance of creating boundaries. We find it's so easy to say “yes, yes, yes” during this transitional time of year, but love that nettle leaf reminds us to find beauty and introspection even as life begins to move a little faster.

What is the best way to prepare nettle? ›

At this point, it's best to think of stinging nettles in a similar fashion to spinach in terms of cooking the leaves. Quickly blanching them in a pot of boiling water will deaden the sting. But leave them for too long and - like spinach - the leaves will wilt too far, and start to lose flavour, texture and goodness.

Who should not drink nettle tea? ›

Avoid if you're pregnant or breastfeeding because there isn't enough information on its safety. Use with caution if you're elderly because of the potential of causing low blood pressure. And use stinging nettle with caution if you have diabetes because of the potential that it may lower or raise blood sugar levels.

How do you make nettle tincture? ›

Put the nettle leaf and alcohol in pint jar, stir and cover with the lid. Label the jar with contents. Place the jar in a cool, dark place, and shake it daily. After 2-3 weeks, strain into bowl and use wooden spoon to press down on herbs left in strainer to get all the goodness.

When should you not eat stinging nettles? ›

It is not wise to eat nettles when flowering between June and October as they have a laxative effect and the plant will then contain cystolith crystals that can upset the urinary tract. The fresh growth from nettles that grow after being cut back is fine though.

Can I eat nettles everyday? ›

Any food should be eaten following the "All Things In Moderation" motto. Nettles are a good food, but if you are eating them more than two times a week in quantity, you might be heading towards trouble. Nettles are a Medicinal Herb, as such they have properties that when overdone can create issues with health.

Is stinging nettle a superfood? ›

Stinging nettle is a plant that can sting and cause welts, but when the sting is removed a traditional “superfood” emerges. Native Indigenous peoples have gathered stinging nettles since time immemorial. They can be used medicinally, ceremonially, made into fabric, nets, rope, and are a highly nutritious food source.

Are nettles more nutritious than spinach? ›

Though spinach is usually considered a good source of iron, nettle contains four times more iron than spinach. Vitamins: Nettle also contains 3–4 times more vitamin C than spinach (nettle: 175–200 mg/100 g, spinach: 45 mg/100 g). It also contains quite a lot of vitamins A, E and B.

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