Updated: Oct 25, 2021
Nettle, also known as Urtica dioica, common, or stinging nettle, is an herbaceous flowering plant.
Though it was once localized to Europe, Asia, and parts of North Africa, nettle is now found all over the world. The tall green plant, which resembles mint, is covered in delicate white flowers and tiny hairs.
Nettles may look innocent enough, but don’t let their daintiness fool you: They sting.
The sharp hairs (trichomes) act as hypodermic needles, injecting histamine into the unlucky person who touches them. Though typically relatively harmless to humans, this can produce a painful sensation at the site of contact. Burning, itchiness, and redness caused by touching nettle will usually subside after a few hours or with the use of antihistamine creams, like Benadryl.
What does Nettle taste like?
Nettle tastes like spinach, but a bit punchier.
“It's a distinctive taste, characteristic of edible wild plants in general: a bright green note that makes you sit up and pay attention, with a peppery zing. Imagine an untamed spinach,” Langdon Cook, author of Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager, told Wall Street Journal in 2009.
Despite its rather inflammatory properties (pun intended), nettle has a long history of culinary, medicinal, and textile uses.
Possibly before it was commonly ingested, nettle was used to make fabrics. Burial shrouds made of the plant have been unearthed in Denmark and traced back to the Bronze Age.
Europeans and Native Americans were known to use the fibers from the plant to make sailcloth, sacking, cordage, and fishing nets, according to Herbal Legacy.
In more recent history, a textile shortage forced German soldiers to use nettle-based fabrics in place of cotton during World War 1.