Every year I have a private little war with the stinging nettles that grow in both my rose garden and formal garden. No matter how many I pull up, there are more to take their place both as the summer progresses and in the following years. Stinging nettles thrive in fertile soil and produce spreading yellow rhizomes and stolons to ensure their continued presence in the garden. The leaves bear numerous stinging hairs (trichomes) that act like hypodermic needles, injecting several chemicals that cause a painful burning sensation followed by itching when touched. Needless to say, just the thought of the sting is enough to make a gardener shy away from tangling with this dreadful plant but to make matters worse, it has no showy flowers or attractive foliage to makes its presence in the garden palatable.
That is not to say that the plant has no merit. Stinging nettles have been used to make cloth in ancient Denmark and then again by the Germans during World War I, increase virility in ancient Rome, and as an antidote in Stuart England. Various brews can be made from nettles to treat ailments such as diarrhea, nosebleeds, asthma, arthritis, and fever. High in vitamin C, the leaves can be boiled and eaten as greens, and young shoots, lacking a sting, can be used in salads. Nettles are also high in nitrogen and so have been used to make liquid fertilizer and compost. Some butterfly and moth larvae find the leaves delicious. None of this may appeal to you but it’s nice to know as you pull them up that that have redeeming qualities.
Type: Herbaceous perennial.
Bloom: Inconspicuous, petalless greenish flowers are born in hanging clusters in the axils of the upper leaves in mid to late summer.
Foliage: Opposite, heart-shaped, hairy, dark green leaves with saw tooth edges bear stinging cells.
Size: 5’ H forming large clumps.
Light: Full sun to partial shade.
Soil: Fertile, moist.
Hardiness: Zones 3-10.
Pests and Diseases: None of importance.
Propagation: Rhizomes, stolons., seed.