Be nice to Nettles Week – 14th to 25th May

The common nettle Urtica dioica (Urticaceae) is probably most commonly known as the Stinging Nettle which is a perennial plant. The stems and leaves are clothed in stiff hollow hairs like needles, which can be easily broken when contact is made and they then produce a intensely irritating fluid. They are also made up of non-stinging hairs, the number of which vary between plants, however the leaves are all heart shaped, strongly veined and hairy. Plants grow to a height of between 50 and 150cm and the average flower size is 1 to 2mm wide. Flowers can be reddish in colour but are mainly green with the male flowers on long pendant branches while the female tend to be in tight clusters. Once established nettles can be quite persistent for many years, the plants spread by rhizomes to form large patches.

stinging nettle with peacock butterfly caterpillars

Nettles for medicine

The common nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat allergy symptoms the most common of which is hay fever. Extensive studies carried out on nettles have shown a promise to treating a number of conditions; Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, arthritis, gout, bladder infections, multiple sclerosis, prostate enlargement and PMS to name a few. The root in particular is a natural remedy to treat or prevent baldness as well as being recommended as a diuretic and to relieve prostrate problems. However the herbs needs to be used for a minimum of 30 days for the best effects.

Nettles are edible!

Nettles can also be used in cooking; soups, tea, wine to name a few. To make nettle soup you will need half a carrier bag full of stinging nettle tops, or fresh looking larger leaves, 50g butter, 1 finely chopped onion, 1l vegetable or chicken stock, 1 lg potato cubed, 1 lg carrot peeled and chopped, 2tbsp crème fraiche and a few drops of tobacco sauce. Wear rubber gloves to sort the nettles, get rid of any thick stalks and anything you don’t like the look of, wash and drain. Melt the butter in a large pan and cook the onion until softened, then add the stock, nettles, potato and carrot, boil and then simmer gently until the potato is soft. Remove from the heat, puree the soup and season. Spoon into bowls and float a tsp of crème fraiche and swirl in a few drops of tabasco sauce.

Nettles are essential for wildlife

A number of Britain’s most well-known and colourful butterflies are dependent on nettles for the growth of their larvae. Butterflies commonly found on a sunny nettle patch include Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta, Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae Peacock Inachis io and Comma Polygonia c-album. All of these are members of the Nymphalidae or Brush- footed butterflies. There distinguished because the front pair of legs much smaller than the other two pairs are covered in tufts of hairs like scales and therefore are not used for walking. All of these have been photographed on our Northamptonshire farms.

peacock butterfly