Common Name - Stinging Nettle

Latin Name - Urtica dioica

Species Characteristics

Stinging Nettle is an herbaceous perennial flowering plant that grows to 3m tall. It is best known for the stinging hairs that cover its stem. Its leaves are lance- to heart-shaped with toothed edges and prominent venation. Stinging Nettle flowers bloom in small drooping clusters from the tips of the stems. Male flower clusters growing separately from female clusters and are usually found above the female flowers.

Habitat & Range

Stinging Nettles are found growing in open forests, meadows, and disturbed sites such as roadsides and barnyards. It thrives in rich moist soil from lowlands to subalpine elevations. Its native range is vast, spreading across North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa where conditions are favourable.

Fascinating Facts

As a source of medicine and food Stinging Nettle is hard to beat. It is high in iron, boron, vitamins A and C, chlorophyll, and tannins. Medicinally, Stinging Nettles have been used for centuries. The Ojibwe of Eastern Canada made use of a tea made from young leaves to act as a diuretic. Like the Ojibwe, Gitksan people also made a tea from the young leaves as an herbal medicine. This tea is has been recommended for treating bronchitis, asthma, seasonal allergies, and even kidney stones. Due to its high iron content Stinging Nettles are good for the blood by helping coagulation and have been used to aid women to reduce bleeding associated with menstruation. As a topical treatment Stinging Nettle has been applied to joints affected by symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism. The histamine injected by the stinging hairs is thought to trigger the release of anti-inflamatory chemicals in the body, thus relieving symptoms.

As a food, Stinging Nettle is a wonderful addition to any meal. There are numerous sources giving the culinary attributes of these plants. Young shoots have been harvested during the early spring before flower development and boiled just as spinach would be. In British Columbia, many First Nations groups, including the Cowichan, Sechelt, and Haida ate Stinging Nettles in this manner. Its coagulating properties have even leant itself to the production of cheese in some communities.

Whether as a food or a medicinal treatment Stinging Nettles are a fascinating plant to see the abundance of variations in conceived uses for one specific plant across many different cultures.

Bryce M Watts, BA Anthropology

President & Co-founder – Forager Foundation

Owner & CEO – Forager Farms Inc. 

Bryce’s background is in anthropology focusing specifically on ethnobotany and traditional ecological knowledge. His most recent interests have turned towards ethical relationships between corporations and indigenous communities. So often in anthropology corporations are shown as exploitative entities that take from the most vulnerable and leave nothing of benefit behind. Through his work with Forager Farms Bryce is trying to create a structure for businesses to follow that involves all voices in planning and managing roles to ensure that everyone involved sees the benefits.

Look for a more in depth discussion of Stinging Nettles in the Feature Flora article of our upcoming issue of Forager magazine due out this September 15.