Stinging Nettles

catherinet(5 IN)May 23, 2009

Hi all,

I have a group of weeds growing in the back of my yard. I've touched them twice and it hurt really bad for a long time. I thought it was a spider bite or something, so I finally looked up the plant's name, and its Stinging Nettles. I was ready to pull it all out until I read that some butterflies really like it.

I'm in zone 5. Should I leave it for the butterflies, but just put up a big warning sign haha........or should I pull them? Those little thorns really, really hurt!


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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Stinging nettles are one of the host plants for red admirals, Catherine, that is, they lay their eggs on the plants, and the caterpillars eat the leaves before pupating and emerging as adult butterflies. It's up to you whether or not you want to keep them. Fortunately for me, the red admirals here use false nettles, just nettles without the stingers. If you never see any red admirals in your area, it may be a waste of space to keep them, or, if you've got plenty of space, you could keep them in hopes that one may use them.
Here are two pictures of red admirals -


    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 10:42PM
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catherinet(5 IN)

Thanks Sherry,
Nice pictures!
I think I'll just keep them this summer, and if they don't attract any, I'll get rid of them. They sure hurt when you touch them! We have so many invasives on our property, I'm not sure I'd want to have to deal with Nettles all over the place too. But I'll be patient and see what they attract.
Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 11:19PM
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bernergrrl(z5 IL)

I am jealous of your nettles!! :) I would love to have some in my "wild" area--not only for the Red Admirals, but mostly for Milbert's Tortoisehell. I think there might be other kinds of butterflies that use them.

Beautiful pics, MissSherry--that blue of the flower contrasted to the red on the butterfly is stunning.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 6:50AM
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I've found that Red Admirals will just as easily use False Nettle, Boehmeria cylindrica as a host plant and you don't have to worry about getting stung. False Nettle seems to do better in the shade.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 8:25AM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Thanks Bernergrrl!
I forgot to mention that eastern commas and question marks will use nettles. I've never even seen an eastern comma, but I don't think nettles are the favorite host of question marks - they've only used my false nettles once, preferring my hops vines over the nettles. Others have found question mark cats on their hackberry trees.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 9:03AM
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catherinet(5 IN)

Thanks everyone,
Sherry.......are your hops vines invasive? They just began growing on our property a couple years ago, and seem to have the potential of being very invasive.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 9:37AM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Other people up north have mentioned that hops vines are invasive, but others have said they're not, and they certainly aren't here. They've always stayed in the raised bed where I planted them, and they've started to decline. I think the decline may be due to the crowded conditions in that bed now - the rue and turk's cap are taking over.
The fact that they've come up on their own MIGHT mean that they could be invasive on your property. If it were me, I'd just watch them, and if they appear to be getting out of hand, I'd pull them up.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 11:19AM
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I have those stinging nettles in the garden, too. I think they came in with the mulch purchase and they are NASTY!

I thought about using 'wood nettles' as a host plant for Red Admirals, etc. And a butterfly gardener on another forum suggested planting them in a big big pot to keep them under control. Wood Nettles were quite successful as a host plantfor her here in Ohio.

Now I wonder where to get seeds for Wood Nettle? Or is it another one of those weedy butterfly host plants that I probably have growing somewhere already but don't know it?

I have a hops vine in mostly shade and it seems energetic but not crazy invasive. I think it should be more in the open to attract the BFs, though.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 12:56PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

Milbert's Tortoiseshell is another butterfly that eats them.

If you have the patience, you should give them three season to see what they attract. The butterflies could be in a down period this year. I have yet to see a single RA this year versus an abundance the last two years.

You could also check in to recipes/salads that use stinging nettles. They are rich in vitamins A,C and D.


Here is a link that might be useful: Stinging Nettle Pesto

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 2:56PM
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Nettle has many health benefits, and in my opinion tastes better than spinach (I hate spinach). I don't know about anyone else, but I think the taste is reminiscent of fresh soybeans plus a green leafy taste.

Getting stung doesn't bother me very much, as long as I can reach down and scratch it away. I run into nettle often in the woods alongside the river.

We don't have many red admirals in our area (I saw a few last year). There's so much nettle around here, it would make finding a RA caterpillar an extremely long, tedious task. So I might just glance across the tops of the nettles, but I don't really care to search for RA cats.

If you're going to eat nettle, cooking it will soften the stingers. Otherwise, you can rub them off, or roll up the leaves and chew it up quickly to demolish the spines.

Some even make beer out of nettle - check this out.

Nettle tea will turn a different color if lemon is added (pH sensitive pigments in nettle). I recently made nettle tea, but I thought it smelled too green and not something I would want to drink.

Now if I can find a good recipe involving cooked spinach, and substitute nettle for the spinach, then I might have something good.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 4:46PM
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onafixedincome(z8-9 CA)

Around here I call Urtica dioica something else--mostly unprintable, but when I want to be polite, I call it Urtica diabolica for its near-unstoppable spreading and seeding capabilities.

Would I put it in again? Yes. It serves as a valuable lesson to those who would like to stomp through my front flowerbed (it's well inside the border--they have to work at it to get nailed!) and the Red Admirals seem to be thoroughly enjoying it.

Sure wish the Milbert's Tortoiseshell would show up...that's the main reason I put it in, not knowing that false nettle actually WOULD grow here....*sigh*

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 2:21AM
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There are at least a couple of dozen different species of Lepidopteran larva that use Urticaceae in the USA alone... plus many dozens of other species worldwide. Which of these species may be attracted to your patch would depend on where in zone 5 you are.

I spent so much of my childhood chin deep in nettles (accidentally) that I was desensitized to them long ago. So I just wade right in to a patch to collect larva and cuttings for them.

For normal people, unless you are extra sensitive to histamine rashes (Urticaria), most of the real discomfort from contact with nettles is in your mind. IOW, if you ignore it, you will soon forget it. If you can't do that, that's what antihistamines are for (not just insect stings). Forgot to bring the antihistamines along on your collecting trip 18,000' up on a mountain in Nepal? No problem - here's a couple of buck brush cures (hey, I grew up on a ranch)... the juice of the plant itself if applied to the affected area is an immediate antidote. If you don't want to handle stems to get the juice flowing, next best is the crushed leaves/stems of Rumex (dock) rubbed on the area. The various docks usually grow in the same wild habitats as the nettles and are very easy to identify. Try these ideas... there is no reason to let nettles stop you from enjoying your bugs.



    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 11:19PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

That's interesting, Larry! I've been stung by stinging nettles before, but didn't find it all that bad, certainly not as bad as the sting I got when I accidentally brushed up against a saddle-back caterpillar! As I recall, the little sting did last a long time, though.
How you doing?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 10:18AM
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From what I've read, the severity of stinging nettle stings varies a bit due to climate, so that plants in a warmer climate invest more energy in making bigger and meaner spines. This past summer, I found some nettle plants and transplanted some to my backyard. I managed to get stung a few times, but I would also say that the stings weren't that bad. They caused an annoyance-level pain that lasted for the better part of or more than a day. Washing the sting area immediately helps a bit, and I have also heard of using a baking soda paste to neutralize the acid. My theory is that, if you don't take care of the sting fairly quickly, the skin heals over just enough to trap the acid inside, thus prolonging any irritation. I'm hoping to get Milbert's Tortoiseshells (Nymphalis milberti) on the ones I transplanted at some point. Of course, any other butterfly would be good, too.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2009 at 12:45AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

Was out on my driveway today sweeping the car carpet. A flitting shadow caught my eye. Turned around to find a question mark laying eggs. She laid 4 on a couple small nettles that are growing about 20 feet from my main crop. She then went over to the main crop, apparently decided they were too old for her liking and left the area. I hate it when butterflies will only lay eggs on a few newbie plants and totally ignore the zillion hardy plants you have. Then again, I'm happy just to get a few eggs. It has been a slow year for my nettles. Still waiting to see a RA anywhere around here.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 12:53AM
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I use scotch tape, or sticky clear box tape, and apply it to the affected area then remove the tape, and it will lift up the microscopic barbed spines.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 9:27AM
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onafixedincome(z8-9 CA)

Yep, the tape works quite well! I always have some with me when I'm working around the darn things. Another technique is to scrape with a blade held vertical to the skin; it flicks the spines out reasonably well.

Just DO NOT use your fingernail...oh, that smarted....!!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 2:15AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

Saw my first RA yesterday. She laid some eggs on my nettles. I then grabbed her and put her in an aquarium with the top of a nettle plant, hoping for some eggs. Let her go today. Found zero eggs on the aquarium plant :( That trick works with some butterflies but I'm 0 for 3 with RAs.

QM cats eclosed today and eating happily.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2009 at 8:43PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

I'm glad you've finally seen a red admiral, and congrats on the egg!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2009 at 10:50PM
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cecropia(z5 Oh)

kcclark,what part of the state are you in? Up here in NE Ohio,I have yet to see a Red Admiral but there have been quite a few Question Marks.My nettles are 5 feet tall already but have no cats or eggs.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 12:07AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH


I'm in southern Delaware county.

In Delaware county news, we are getting hit hard by gypsy moth cats. One of the MetroParks, Highbanks, is getting defoliated right now (Google "highbanks gypsy moths" for some pics). My kids found a gypsy cat on my Japanese maple this morning. Area a couple miles east of me got sprayed for gypsies 2 or 3 years ago. I'm sure hoping my area doesn't end up on a list to be sprayed.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 1:47PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

Another use for stinging nettles: income

Here is a link that might be useful: Entrepreneur's stinging nettles take the pain off

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 11:48AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I was very surprised to find my nettles are about 6" tall already. Only other thing growing right now is the hated garlic mustard.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2011 at 4:07AM
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My Urtica dioica plants are doing well. When the weather stayed in the teens for 4 nights and 3 days in February, it zapped most of the foliage, but even then, some stayed green. I make tea with them...I combine regular tea with several herbal kinds (including nettle)in very hot water and afterward add a bit on honey...good stuff! There's usually nobody in my yard but me. I have the plants in 3 different area, marked so I remember to not touch unless I have gloves on. Last year the RA's used the nettle several times.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 4:31PM
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catherinet(5 IN)

Its been over a year. since I first started this post, we've been able to ride through our woods by the creek in my golf cart, which we have never done before. The woods is absolutely covered with stinging nettle. :(
I guess it will keep out unwanted humans. Just one more invasive that we have acres and acres of. Bush honeysuckle, hops vine, stinging nettle, wild grape, wild raspberries, poison ivy, and now poison hemlock. I just have to keep thinking about the benefit to all the wildlife, or I'd go CRAZY! haha
I'm sure some interesting, wonderful wildlife of some kind will find each and every one of these "invasives" a perfect place to live and raise youngins.
I just have to keep trying to be Zen about it. :)

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 11:37AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I could use some more nettles right now. I'm going through more than 140 leaves a day right now. I have to look carefully at every leaf I bring in because the QMs and RAs are still laying eggs everyday.

Parasitoids have not been a problem this year which has completely surprised me. Then today, I brought in 2 folded leaves and each contained a dead 2nd instar RA cat with the parasitoid next to the cat (both flies - one larva and one pupa). Looks like the predators might be ramping things up.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 2:43PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I have a interesting QM story. I was going through the stinging nettle leaves with eggs that I had brought in. Two leaves still had QM eggs on them and the eggs were black. I figured something was wrong with the eggs since they should have hatched by now. I gave them to my son and told him to look at them under a microscope to see if maybe something had chewed its way into the egg and killed the cat. A little while later, he told me he had found a little spider on the egg. I told him that did not sound possible and that it was probably a mite. He did not think so, so I took a look. I saw a pale yellow spider, probably 1/3 the size of the egg, sitting next to the egg (my son said it was on the egg when he first saw the spider). I did not know spiders came that small (makes sense that they do since I know how small insects can be but I had never stopped to think about teeny spiders). I'm wondering if that spider had killed the egg or was just waiting for an unsuspecting caterpillar to come out. There was also a shiny green spec on the egg. At 30X, I could not make out any distinguishing features of the spec. I was wondering if they were a deposit of parasitoid eggs hoping to be ingested by the cat. I wanted to change lenses and bump magnification up to 60X but other priorities called.

Anyway, I thought I'd share this story. It seems like lepidoptera eggs are the smallest thing we deal with but there is another world there that we cannot see with the naked eye. It is pretty cool to use a microscope to observe that small world.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 2:01AM
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butterflymomok(7a NE OK)

Amazing to think of something so tiny! I remember watching a movie once about all the unseen critters that live on us, on our eyelashes, etc.

It's great that you have encouraged your son to be inquisitive. Think I will consider a microscope as a present for my grandsons. Wish they were close so to share it with them, but being half a world away makes that impossible. Sigh . . .


    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 9:07AM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

That's so interesting!

I'm not surprised that there are teeny predators waiting for eggs to hatch, at least RA eggs seem so vulnerable.

You mentioned in the second from last post that parasitoids weren't such a problem this year, didn't find any until late in the season. Same thing happened here, but I thought those little white cocoons were little wasps - they're flies? I always break them in half, so that there won't be more parasitoids to kill yet more RAs in the future, so I've never seen them emerge or wanted to really. But I see tachinid flies landing on various host plant leaves around here frequently - yuk!


    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 11:14AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

AFAIK, the little white cocoons always contain a wasp. The flies I found were the maggot running around and a bare pupa.

If anyone is serious about buying a microscope, email me and I'll be glad to steer you towards what will work. The "usual" microscope does not work well with live bugs. What works well is called a "disecting" microscope. I don't recommend new because the affordable ones are all cheapies form China with very small field of views (lots of fun trying to get your bug to where it is visible). The one I got first came out in '68. I've linked to an Ebay auction to give you some idea of what I'm talking about. This microscope is still in use in Ohio State entomology classes. I did not pay $600 for mine (actually mine is an American Optical, not Bausch & Lomb). I bid on many auctions before I finally got mine last November for $150/free shipping.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bausch & Lomb Zoom Stereo 5

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 12:04PM
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Nettles is the healthiest plant,which has given us by Mother Nature.If people knew about the use of this herb that eliminates the symptoms of various diseases,we would use less medication...

For what uses nettles?
Nettle is one of the most medicinal plants, and is commonly used leaf and nettle root. Used to purify the blood and increase the excretion of fluids from the body, and has been applied to all diseases caused by an accumulation of toxins in the body (eczema, headaches, rheumatism, gout, arthritis). Nettle has a beneficial effect in a variety of diseases that occur as a result of excessive burden on the liver, gall bladder, spleen and kidney toxic chemicals. The liver and kidneys are responsible for processing and excretion of harmful substances from the body. If these organs are overloaded or fail to excrete harmful substances out, created fertile ground for the development of diseases that occur as a result of the burden of toxins (rheumatism, gout, migraine, eczema). Nettle prevents the sand in the kidneys and bladder
Nettle is rich in iron, and is used in Iron Deficiency Anaemia. In folk medicine nettle is considered to be "strong blood", and also be used for pallor, anemia, anemia, lack of energy, fatigue fast.
Nettle contains many vitamins and minerals, and some herbalists believe multimineralni and natural multivitamin complex. Nettle contains vitamin C, carotenoids (provitamin A), vitamin C, B2, B5, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicic acid (formic acid and histamine, which urns). Nettle root is an ingredient of a mixture of tea for curing prostate enlargement and urinary tract. Nettle contains components that regulate the levels of free androgens (male sex hormones), consequently increasing the metabolism of a swollen prostate tissue, fluid eliminates the deadlock and open the narrowed urinary channels.
Nettle is also used for catarrh of the stomach, respiratory diseases, gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcer, pulmonary diseases.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 10:35AM
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I would love to get some fresh or frozen nettles. If anyone that has them willing to ship them to me, I'll be willing to pay for them. I really need them to make a medicine for me. Tx . your help is really appreciated.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 6:35PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

After having zero red admirals last year, I expected a banner year this year. Not happening but I was very happy to finally find two 2nd instar RAs about an hour ago. I've missed them.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 9:19PM
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