Stinging nettles are considered a weed by many gardeners but they have a lot to offer those who give them some space in their garden. They are a delicious leafy herb, the tender young tops can be steamed and eaten like spinach or used to make a delicious soup. The foliage is also used fresh or dried to make a soothing herbal tea that is said to cleanse the blood. Stinging nettles are rotted down like comfrey and made into a nourishing nitrogen rich ‘tea’ that is said to stimulate a plant’s immune system. Cut foliage is also added to compost heaps to act as an enhancer. The fact that we might get the odd, short-lived sting every now and again is surely no reason to avoid including this versatile plant in our gardens. Nettles also draw beneficial insects and butterflies into our gardens. NB. They can be an invasive plant and their growth should be restricted in the same way as comfrey or mint – plant in the ground in a bucket with the bottom cut out of it or grow in containers.
Quantity 1 or 2 plants should suffice for most gardens. They will spread as far as they are allowed to.
Plant or sow in early spring and summer.
Nettles will grow in full sun or part shade. They grow to around knee height depending upon soil and location. Nettles can be grown in containers.
To grow tender leaves for kitchen grow nettles in a slightly moist soil, rich soil organic material such as compost or rotted manure dug through it.
Nettles are best grown from root cuttings.
Root cuttings: If you have a friend with an established plant then grub away soil from the side and using a spade or an old knife cut away a section of root with leaves attached. Trim leaves back to about a thumb’s length above ground before planting into your garden or container with roots beneath the soil as they were when you took the cutting.
Plant seedlings and cuttings at an average spacing of a good hand’s length apart.
Water young seedlings in dry periods. Mulch to retain moisture and feed every few weeks with a liquid worm juice or compost tea to boost foliage growth.
In cooler parts of the country nettles may die back but fresh growth will start in spring. In warmer areas they are likely to keep their foliage all year round.
Nettles are best used fresh for cooking and should be harvested just before you intend to use them. Using gloves and scissors, cut the juicy young tips (about a little finger’s length). Cooking neutralizes the plant’s stinging ability. For making tea you can use fresh or dried leaves.