Dead nettle. Well, that sounds like a downright awful plant now, doesn’t it?
But before you write it off completely, remember that names can be deceiving.
Dead nettle is in fact a very nutritious, beautiful and useful herbaceous plant that can complement and enhance any garden space, from the flower bed to the herb patch.
Here is a quick overview of what dead nettle is, and why you should plant it.
What is Dead Nettle?
You’ve probably seen it before, without even realizing it. I know I ignored it for years, brushing it off as just another pretty weed, before finally deciding to find out what it was.
Dead nettle, also called lamium and purple dead nettle, is a flowering member of the mint family.
It grows profusely in all parts of North America, as well as in it’s native Eurasia, and most people think of it as a weed. It can be easily identified by it’s top of purple leaves, gradually turning to green farther down, and it’s small purple flowers. And, like it’s cousins, it sports a distinctive square stem and slightly fuzzy leaves.
It earned it’s (incredibly awful) name because of it’s apparent resemblance to another common wild herb: stinging nettle. Thankfully though, dead nettle is completely harmless and doesn’t have any irritants to it. Hence, the stinging part of it is “dead.”
Had I been the herbalist or botanist in charge of this hundreds of years ago, I probably would have named it “better nettle,” or something similarly less likely to make a person recoil in mortal fear. But that’s just crazy old me.
How to Use it in the Kitchen
Terrible name aside, this plant is a health powerhouse!
Dead nettle is highly nutritious and all of it’s parts are completely edible. Some people might even call it a super food! It’s abundant in iron, fiber, flavonoids and vitamins. In fact, these plants contain more calcium and vitamin C than even spinach! And the seeds of dead nettle have an extra structure called an elaiosome, which is packed with lipids, proteins and powerful antioxidants.
Though it’s part of the mint family, it doesn’t have a very strong mint taste. I think it’s more tangy-sweet than anything. It makes an excellent addition to a mixed greens salad, straight from the garden. Other great ways to use dead nettle are in soups, dried as a light seasoning or steeped in tea.
My absolute favorite ways to use it are in smoothies and pesto, where it adds a huge dose of nutrition! I just pick a handful of leaves, or a couple stems of the whole plant, and finely chop it up with some water or coconut milk in the food processor. Then add to pesto or smoothies, accordingly.
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It’s also a good supplement for chickens and ducks, and can simply be given a rough chop and added to their daily feed.
Dead Nettle as Medicine
Not only nutritious, herbalists and naturopathic doctors have considered dead nettle to be highly medicinal for thousands of years.
The properties of the plant are said to be astringent, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal. The leaves, roughly squeezed or pounded, can be used on wounds or cuts to staunch bleeding and promote healing. Another great way to use it is as part of a poultice, to relieve soreness and inflammation.
Used as a tea, dead nettle can help strengthen the immune system and fight infections, and improve kidney function.
The National College of Naturopathic Medicine also claims that using dead nettle can relieve allergy symptoms and protect sufferers from secondary infections. Over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines are known to have side effects like drowsiness and dry mouth, and so nettle tea is a good alternative for people with sensitivities.
Growing Dead Nettle in Your Garden
So know you know why you should use dead nettle, but how exactly do you grow it?
Don’t worry, that’s probably the easiest part!
Dead nettle is extremely cold-hardy, and grows well in zones 4-10. It prefers to be planted in part-shade and moist but well-drained soil, but it’s not fussy and will perform well even in full-sun or full-shade.
It is part of the mint family, which is pretty well-known for being invasive in the garden. This particular plant, though, is not considered to be very aggressive in it’s growth habits. In fact, I’ve had a patch growing on the north side of the garden for years now, and it hasn’t spread very far at all.
You can find seeds or starts online, or you can simply dig up a wild patch and transplant it into your garden.
Dead nettle has sort of a sprawling habit, and will form a loose ground cover. It looks best in the front of borders, planted en mass. It will be one of the very first flowers to bloom in late winter and early spring, and provides much needed forage for winter-hungry bees and other pollinators.
I hope I’ve convinced you that this healthy, hardy and nutritious plant should be a treasured member of your herb or flower garden!
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