Take the Sting Out with Nutritious Nettles

A rich seam of stinging nettles in Salvisa, Kentucky.

My daughter, Molly, decided to harvest nettles on our farm in Salvisa last year.

I wondered, Why?

I must have been lost in the woods. Suddenly, more herbalists are singing the praises of stinging nettles. Urtica dioica is loaded with vitamins and minerals and is also a valuable, anti-inflammatory, weedy herb. The leaves can be harvested fresh or dried for a nourishing pick-me-up tea. And they can also be blanched for pesto.

Some of you may never have encountered a stinging nettle. Mike Berkeley a partner of Growild Nursery in Fairview, Tennessee, and co-creator of the Native Plant Podcast, said, “You run through the woods naked and you’ll find stinging nettles.

So, you need to take precaution if you want to make an herbal tea or pesto with stinging nettles. They have tiny little daggers called trichomes that can irritate your thin skin or even the thick hide of a horse. (My wife, Rose, is a rider and she said, “Oh yeah, horses will get jumpy.”) Molly recommends long sleeves, pants and sturdy work gloves for harvest.

Fresh spearmint and stinging nettles. Molly Bush photo.

Nettle leaves should be harvested a few weeks before flowering begins. Stinging nettles flower in Kentucky from June-August. I dried our nettles in the warm sun on a breezy, dry day along a gravel walk in late May. But, it’s safer to tie them in small bunches and hang them from a clothesline on the porch. Your neighbors might suspect you’ve harvested your backyard marijuana crop, so fill them in that your project is street legal. (And remind them that the pot crop doesn’t come in until late summer.)

The drying process can take a week or two. The annoying little daggers will lose their stinging effect.

Molly’s friend, the farmer and forager Laila Alizadeh, came out to see the nettles last week. They don’t grow on her farm in nearby Shelby County. Ronald L. Jones, author of Plant Life of Kentucky, wrote that stinging nettles are, in fact, rare in Kentucky.

Well, we must have the mother lode. Stinging nettles are abundant in the evenly moist soils, along the woodland floodplain of the Salt River.

The Texas billionaire tycoon Nelson Bunker Hunt [motto: “People who know how much they’re worth aren’t usually worth that much”] tried to corner the silver market and lost much of his fortune. Before and after the collapse of his many other nefarious enterprises, Hunt owned some 600 horses on 8,000 acres of prime thoroughbred land not so far from our farm.

I may be short on precious metals, but I’m rich in stinging nettles.

I told Laila to come prospect for nettles anytime she wants.


  1. Stinging nettles appear in many fairy tales. The princess had to make shirts from stinging nettles to save her 12 brothers from being swans for the rest of their lives. The poor woodcutter could only afford nettle soup.
    I came across them once. Pulling weeds without gloves. Ow.

  2. Stinging nettle grows prolifically on my property in Northeastern PA. And growing nearby is another herb (or weed, depending on your perception) jewel weed, whose sap is an antidote for the sting. How convenient!

  3. We’re posting this for Allen, who’s out of town today.
    “This is the common wood nettles, Laportea canadensis, and NOT the uncommon stinging nettles, Urtica dioica. Thanks to Ellen Zachos and Jo Ellen Sharps, for making this observation. Thanks, also, to my botanist pal, Pat Haragan, for confirming the identification. Laportea canadensis has opposite leaves; Urtica dioica has alternate leaves. Both have stingers. The tea and pesto of wood nettles are tasty.”

    • I was sitting here thinking through this whole article- that’s not what stinging nettles look like! Cool to know it’s another edible species.

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