You may be familiar with stinging nettles but you might not realize just how beneficial this herb can be.Â Â
The first thing that youâ€™ll need to harvest this useful herb is a pair of sturdy gloves! If youâ€™ve ever brushed up against stinging nettles, youâ€™ll understand how they got their name. The fine hairs along the stems and leaves of the plant contain histamines and formic acid. They leave an itchy red rash on any of your skin they come in contact with.Â
I recommended not only gloves for this job, but a long-sleeved shirt as well. Youâ€™ll also need a pair of snips.Â
Read more: Here’s our guide to foraging for medicinal plants.
Identifying Stinging Nettles
Nettles thrive in moist soil and can be found growing along riverbanks, near creeks and in low-lying forests. They tend to grow as an understory plant, preferring to be in the shade of the taller trees above.
The leaves are long, oval shaped and serrated. The leaves are opposite, and there are fine hairs on the underside of the leaves and along the stem.
There is a similar, related plant that you might find which is known as wood nettle. This is another useful plant, but it is a different species. Wood nettle has rounder leaves that grow alternating along the step, as opposed to the opposite leaves of stinging nettles.
This is the characteristic to identify for proper identification.Â
Harvesting Stinging Nettles
To harvest, simply snip the plants off near the ground. Collect them on a tarp or sheet. This will make them easy to bundle up when you are done.
When you get home, lay the plants out in a single layer on screens and allow them to dry. You can use a fan to speed up the process, which is particularly beneficial in humid weather. Once the leaves are dry, they can easy be stripped from the stems and stored in airtight containers.
After nettles have dried, they no longer irritate the skin on contact. So they are safe and easy to work with. Â
Read more: Craft your own herbal salves for gifts or use around the home.
How to Use the Plant
Heating also dissipates the formic acid found on nettles leaves. This means that you can harvest the young leaves, cook them up and enjoy their deep, green flavor. Nettles are packed full of vitamins and minerals, and are one of the healthiest spring greens that we can forage.
This herb can also be crafted in salves or lotions and enjoyed for their anti-inflammatory benefits. Stinging nettles make a wonderful topical treatment for inflammation, joint pain and arthritis.Â
Itâ€™s just that easy to take this “pesky weed” and turn into a beneficial herbal ally that you can grow and enjoy right on your homestead!