Nettle (Urtica dioica)

If there is a plant that needs little by way of an introduction it's definitely the nettle. Nettles are akin to the ‘shark’ of the plant world and get a notorious bad press for arguably good reason. It is suggested that the term 'nettle' is derived from the Old English for needle – a reference to the stinging leaves. It seems as soon as we are able to walk and understand danger, we learn to identify and to be cautious of stingy nettles.

Photo credit: Colin McAlister, The Hollow

Nettles grow in clumps and can be as tall as a person. They have long upright stems with large serrated green leaves which are covered in tiny hairs. Each of these hollow hairs is actually a sting that contains venom. The tip of each hair is so brittle that when brushed against, no matter how lightly, breaks off exposing a sharp point that penetrates the skin providing the sting. Although the sting is sore, it is nothing compared to its tropical cousins. In Timor (South East Asia) their nettle causes a burning sensation and lockjaw like symptoms which can last for weeks and in Java (Indonesia) the effects frequently cause death so we should consider ourselves lucky!

Photo credit: Jonathan Clark, Victoria Park

With all this negativity you may ask what could they possibly be good for? Well, quite a lot as it turns out. They are a wildlife magnet, Ladybirds (which help the garden because they eat the aphids which eat the plants) call them home as they help protect their young from predators. Nettle leaves and stalks can be used to make a natural fabric dye and the young nettle tips are edible.

Did you know?

There nettle eating competitions all over the UK.

The Nepalese make curries, the Cornish make cheese and the nettles can also be used to make a tasty soup! They are a great plant food, an excellent addition to any compost heap, are in plentiful supply and they don’t cost any money! 


Photo credit: Colin McAlister, Dixon Playing Fields

So, if handled with care, our stinging nettle is actually a plant that has many benefits and uses.  We hope with this information it may help everyone to reconsider the plant less as a predator and more as a friend. Nettles are currently in flower from May to September.  These brownish tassle like flowers may not be the most alluring and you certainly won’t find them in a bouquet but they are a real magnet to butterflies.

Where to find it?

Nettles love fertile rich soils and are an indicator of soil quality. While our maintenance teams control them around the paths verges, you will find them growing along along the Greenway near undisturbed riverside, and woodland areas in Cregagh Glen, Marsh-wiggle Way, Dixon, The Hollow and Victoria Park.    

Be Part of it...

See past the sting and instead consider nettles for all their benefits. Please send us any comments, drawings or pictures so that we can share the Greenway Communities new love for nettles, on the blog.