Stinging Nettles: Why They’re A Boon Not a Bane

Nettles in the forest garden.

Many gardeners hate stinging nettles. They lurk between other plants, and catch the unwary with their stings. But I want to take a moment to explain why they are a boon – not a bane. And why we should all value their contributions to our gardens and our lives.

The Benefits of Stinging Nettles

  • The stings you receive from these plants actually boost your immune system. (Nettles in the UK are sometimes said to have been spread here by marching Roman armies. Centurions allegedly flogged themselves with nettles to improve their hardiness and to keep warm in our colder northern climate. This origin story is, I believe, a folk myth. But the benefits of nettles to our health are well documented and proven by science.)
  • Stinging nettles are also good for your health when you eat them. They taste great too. They can be cooked and eaten anywhere you might ordinarily use spinach in a recipe.
  • You can also use them to make beer.
  • Or as a rennet substitute in cheese making.
  • They attract and support a range of beneficial wildlife when growing in your garden.
  • They are environmental indicators – telling us that fertility is good where they grow.
  • When wilted, they are a good additional food source for chickens and other livestock.
  • You can use nettles as a source of plant fibre to make yarn and fabric.
  • They also make a useful natural dye.
  • Stinging nettles are also great for use in natural cleaning and beauty products. You can use them in soap making, and to make a good natural hair rinse, for example.
  • You can also use nettles to make a nitrogen rich liquid plant feed for your crops. And help speed up decomposition in a composting system.

Of course, we need to keep nettles in control. But it is important to recognise just what useful plants they can be.

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