Latin: Urtica dioica L.
- European stinging nettle
This herbaceous perennial has a hairy erect, square stem with dark green-toothed leaves that grow in pairs up the stem. Small green flowers sprout in clusters from the leaf axils in summer and are sometimes tinged pinkish. This plant spreads by rhizomes, and often grows in colonies.
1-2 mm (1/8 in.) long, grown in cluster, with four tiny sepals and no petals. Male and female flowers on separate plants or in separate clusters on the same plant; May to September.
0.6-1.8 m (2-6 ft.) tall.
Wetlands, meadows, and at the edges of woods.
Throughout Canada and the United States.
The small, hollow hairs in stinging nettle contain several irritating substances such as histamine (the mediator of some allergic reactions), serotonin, acetylcholine and formic acid (ants contain a high concentration of formic acid). These substances, coupled with the hairs ability to scratch the skin and mucus membranes, results in almost immediate burning, itching and irritation. Typically, signs are present for a few minutes to a few hours, and resolve on their own. If oral contact was made, the animal may shake its head, salivate, and rub its mouth. Skin irritation is possible, especially with short-coated dogs, and eye irritation is also possible. This plant has a variety of medicinal and edible purposes. Young plants can also be used to make nettle tea, wine or beer. They have cleaning properties for the stomach, purifying the blood, dissolving mucus in the chest and lungs, and for alleviating bronchial problems, and reducing the symptoms of diarrhea. Nettles are a very valuable addition to the diet, they are a very nutritious food that is easily digested and is high in minerals (especially iron) and vitamins (especially A and C). Older plants become fibrous and gritty from an abundance of small crystals.
This plant’s tiny stinging hairs contain an acid that can cause a severe, burning skin irritation.