Skip to main content
Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettles are too useful to be called a weed

A common edible weed that surprises many people is the stinging nettle. It is edible and rather tasty despite its reputation as something you might want to avoid. 

The “scrub nettle” (Urtica incise) is native to Australia and a common feature of the landscape. It can be found in many of the wetter parts of the country, along the east coast and in a few places in South Australia and West Australia. Two European imports (Urtica dioica and Urtica urens) have escaped into the wild in Australia and become naturalized in much the same regions. All three are similar and can be used the same way.

The “stinging” part of the common name “stinging nettle” refers to special hairs on the leaves and stems of the plant. These cause an unpleasant sensation when they touch your skin. Indeed, this is the best way to identify the plant. Touch it, and if you jump backwards as a result, you have the right plant.

The “sting” is more annoying than painful, and will not cause harm. You can collect a bucket of nettle shoots wearing gloves to protect your skin. Bring the shoots home and let them sit overnight. The stinging hairs will wilt as the shoots themselves wilt, removing the stinging properties from the plant. Clean them thoroughly under running water, then strip the tender, edible leaves from the tough, stringy stems. Boil the leaves, steam them, or make spanakopita with them, much the same as you would with spinach. 

As food, you have many options. You can enjoy them English style (a potato and nettle pottage), Greek style (cheese and nettle pastries), Korean style (fermented into nettle kim chee) or whatever way you like. You can try nettle pesto (equal parts fresh nettle leaves, fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan and oil, all pureed in a blender and poured over pasta or used to make green pizza).

Stinging nettles are also useful as medicinal herbs. The stinging hairs themselves have been used to treat arthritis. Brewing tea from the leaves will, neutralize the stinging properties of the hairs, allowing you to benefit from natural antihistamines contained in the leaves. These are useful in treating some respiratory ailments. Nettles have also used in traditional medicine in several countries (Tibet, Jamaica, Scotland, etc.) in the treatment of various other ailments.

Image: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Something incorrect here? Suggest an update below: