Nettle : Uritica dioica
This wonderful plant has so many uses; think twice before cursing the nettle that grows freely in your garden .
Nettle has been used to make beer, as a rennet for making cheese, to ripen fruit, in soups and as a vegetable, to make paper, cloth and rope, as a green compost and manure, animal food (with horses it improves their general condition, in chickens nettle improves egg production and increases weight gain). The leaves make a lovely natural green dye, while the roots when boiled with alum make a yellow dye. And that is before we even get on to its wonderful medicinal benefits!
The Romans are said to have brought nettles over to Britain with them for the health benefits. The Latin name ‘Urtica’ is derived from urticarria a term for beating oneself, in this case with a bunch of nettles which stimulates the circulation. The practice has been used over the centuries as a remedy for rheumatism both on humans and on animals too.
The leaves are best picked in the spring and made into a tea, packed with vitamins and minerals they make and excellent spring tonic. Enough nettle leaves can be collected and dried to keep you going throughout the year. As well as their tonic qualities, nettle leaves are also used to treat allergies, reduce blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, and, as a blood cleanser, nettles are used to clear gout and skin problems. The leaves make and excellent hair tonic. The roots of the nettle are also used medicinally and primarily used for their benefits in treating male prostate problems.
In nature nettles play an important part too as some butterflies and moths, including the Red Admiral and the aptly named Nettle Top Moth lay their eggs on the leaves, which when hatched feed off the leaves of this versatile plant. Butterflies and moths are not the only animals that search out nettle, blue tits, siskins and other small birds love to feed off the seeds which form in the summer time.
So next time you’re in the garden or out walking pause for a moment and thank this wonderful little plant for all the treasures it provides for us.