Urtica and Laportea species
These prickly plants grow several feet high. They have small,
inconspicuous flowers. Fine, hairlike bristles cover the stems,
leaf stalks, and undersides of leaves. The bristles cause a stinging
sensation when they touch the skin.
Habitat and Distribution
Nettles prefer moist areas along streams or at the margins
of forests. They are found throughout North America, Central
America, the Caribbean, and northern Europe.
The very young shoots and leaves are edible. Boiling the plant
for 10 to 15 minutes destroys the stinging element of the bristles.
This plant is very nutritious.
Mature nettle stems have a fibrous layer that you can divide
into individual fibers and use to weave string or twine. It's
best to collect them after the stinging hairs have weathered
Most edible wild plants are not all that tasty, but nettle
shoots are delicious. I prefer them to spinach. The stinging
hairs can cause irritation that will sometimes last an hour,
so use gloves to collect them, and be careful not to let them
brush against your arms.
Nettles are rich in protein, minerals, iron, and vitamins
C and A. Research shows that nettle slightly depresses the central
nervous system, kills bacteria and increases urine flow. It has
been used to treat poor circulation, anemia, and diarrhea.
Nettle fibers were used for many years to make rope, paper