Species: Urtica dioica
Common names: stinging nettles, bull nettle Swedish name: brännässla
Urtica is a genus of flowering annual or perennial herbaceous plants. The perennial species have underground rhizomes giving them a weed-like growth. Many species have stinging hairs on their green parts and are often called nettles. Thanks to the stinging hairs, Urtica species are rarely eaten by herbivores, so they provide long-term shelter for insects, such as aphids, caterpillars and moths. The insects, in turn, provide food for small birds, such as tits. This makes Urtica valuable wildlife plants.
Urtica dioica is a perennial native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America. The species epithet dioica means di (two) and oikos (house) which indicates that the male flowers and the female flowers grow on different plants. Urtica dioica has a long history of use as a medicine, as a food source and as a source of fibre. In Europe nettles are associated with human habitation. The presence of nettles may indicate human and animal influence. Being responsible for elevated levels of phosphate and nitrogen in the soil, providing an ideal environment for nettles. Nettles are the exclusive larval food plant for several species of butterfly.
Description: Urtica dioica has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow, as are the roots. It bears small greenish or brownish numerous flowers. The leaves and stems have stinging hairs (trichomes), whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that will inject several chemicals causing a painful sting.
How to grow: Nettles are not usually grown rather seen as a weed. But you may purchase seeds from companies that sell herbal and medicinal plants. Before planting, think twice and chose a patch where you can keep it under control. It needs full sun or partial shade. A moist and nutritious soil. Tilling is the best way to keep it in place.
A weed with many uses
In folk medicine the stinging nettle was used to treat anemia, oedema, diabetes and arthritis. The whole plant was used but the green parts was said to be diuretic, blood building, and a weak lower of the blood sugar. The circulation in the skin was thought to be improved. The active substances are vitamin C, iron and in fresh plants histamine, acetylcholine and formid acid. The stinging nettle is also used to improve the appearance of the hair, and is said to be a remedy against oily hair and dandruff.
The neat spring sprouts can be harvest to eat. The stem can be use to make fibers reminding of the process making flax. Of the fibers a fine fabric was made, called nettle cloth. The root can be used as a natural dye for textiles.
In the garden it is a useful companion plant. Stinging nettles can be used to make nettle water which is used as nourishment feeding it to plants and vegetables.
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Disclaimer: Be careful when using herbal remedies since the effects may be uncertain. I don´t recommend herbal medicine as a substitute for school medicine in any way. Always consult the professional health care.
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