Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Stinging Nettle is a fitting name for this plant, because it has formic acid in its leaf hairs. However, this plant was used for many medical uses, including abdominal issues, and is still eaten today! You can safely touch this plant if your skin is covered.

Photo: H. Zell

Photo: H. Zell

Why They Matter to Us

  • Has long been utilized by Indigenous people to treat various medical conditions

  • Is full of vitamins important to human health

  • Has a strong association with human habitation and disturbance

  • Can indicate if the ground is frequently wet because the Stinging Nettle thrives in moist soil

Indigenous Uses for Stinging Nettle

  • Indigenous people used fresh leaves to treat acne, eczema, diarrhea, intestinal worms, and urinary tract infections

  • Nettles were boiled into a tea and drank as a childbirth aid by increasing milk production, hastening labor and relaxing the muscles

  • Stinging nettle leaves were used as a food and nutrient source including chlorophyll, carotene and Vitamin C

  • The plant’s long fibers were transformed into cord and fishing line

Photo: Patrick Kyle

Photo: Patrick Kyle

How to Identify

  • Stinging nettles can be up to 3 m tall with opposite leaves that are jagged-toothed in shapes ranging from spear-like to oval.

  • Stinging nettle flowers are tiny, numerous green-ish and grow in drooping clusters on the plant.

Where to find

Stinging nettle is found throughout Canada except Nunavut. They prefer areas with moist, rich soils such as riparian areas and moist woodlands.

Food Chain

  • Stinging nettles are primary producers which means they create their own food. To create their own food with photosynthesis, they required mineral-rich soils, water and sunlight.

  • Due to the stinging nettle’s natural protection, this plant is avoided by most animals, except the larvae of various butterflies and moths.

Fun Facts

  • In Europe, the chlorophyll from this plant is used commercially as a food-safe green coloring agent (E140)

  • Stinging nettle leaves, which have a peppery zing or spinach like taste, are perfectly edible, BUT blanch the leaves thoroughly for safe eating first!

  • When the hairs on nettle leaves are broken, formic acid is released, causing a stinging on the skin.

  • Formic acid is used by humans for preserving livestock feed , household cleaning products and to protect pipes against corrosion