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What is a Nettle Plant?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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A nettle plant is of the family Urticaceae that includes tropical vines and shrubs. Nettles are in the genus Urtica and the species dioica. Dioica means "two houses;" the nettle has all male or all female flowers rather than a mixture. Urtica dioica are known as stinging nettles because the plants' stems and leaves are covered in hairs that burn the skin when touched. Urtica means "burn" and the stinging or burning sensation is caused by acids and proteins in the nettle plant's hairs.

Although some gardeners don't like nettles in their garden and try to get rid of the prickly plants, others want to grow them for herbal or vegetable consumption. Nettles can be eaten steamed and the leaves are rich in many nutrients such as iron and potassium as well as vitamins A, C and K. The vitamin K in the nettle plant is thought to help stop bleeding in wounds. The ancient Greeks used nettles as a laxative as well as for many other purposes such as lessening skin inflammation. Some people drink nettles in an herbal tea.

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Nettle seeds for planting may be purchased from nurseries or, where permitted, seeds may be taken, using gloved hands, from nettles growing wild. To germinate nettle plant seeds before planting them in a garden, they should be started indoors in early spring to time them to be planted when there is no more chance of frost. Soil placed in the starter plant pots should be just enough to cover the seeds. The sprouted seeds can be planted in partial shade in a frost-free garden in fertilized soil. Nettles are perennials; perennials are plants that last several years.

The bull nettle plant is one of the many types of stinging nettles. It has white flowers and is abundant throughout the Southern United States. It’s important to note that the types of plants called deadnettle aren’t stinging nettles. For example, non-stinging red deadnettle has bright violet, pink or white flowers and commonly grows by roadsides in many parts of the world.

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