one of the most underrated. Anyone can grow it, or find it. It grows in all the lower 48 states and all over the globe. And will grow in just about any soil.
common name:stinging nettles, nettles,
scientific name:urtica dioica
uses:compost, plant extracts, soil amendment,in compost teas, foliar spray, mulch, dried root powder
nutrients:nitrogen, essential Oils, Ammonia, minerals iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium and calcium, vitamins A, C and D
Nettle's main plant chemicals include: acetophenone, acetylcholine, agglutinins, alkaloids, astragalin, butyric acid, caffeic acids, carbonic acid, chlorogenic acid, chlorophyll, choline, coumaric acid, folacin, formic acid, friedelins, histamine, kaempherols, koproporphyrin, lectins, lecithin, lignans, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, neoolivil, palmitic acid, pantothenic acid, quercetin, quinic acid, scopoletin, secoisolariciresinol, serotonin, sitosterols, stigmasterol, succinic acid, terpenes, violaxanthin, and xanthophylls.
difficulty to grow: very easy http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/library/hort2/mf2631.pdf
a easy to read pdf growers guide.
perrenial or annual: depends on location, dry places it will die each season. In moist places that dont frost hard it can grow back from the roots.
invasive or not: can be invasive. If kept under check and if your actually using if for ferts, you shouldnt have a problem, just dont over seed!
soil conditions: will grow just about anywhere, but thrives in rich soil.
when to plant: grows best in spring, but ive seen it growing at all times of year in frost free areas, as long as there is water, sufficient temperature and ambient light. Note that if its cold as hell, they will not grow that fast. When it warms up they get off to a much better pace.
where to plant: nettles grow good in the sun. But they flower faster and dont get as big IMO if you leave them to grow naturally( though with the right conditions ive seen 15ft+ tall nettles in the mountains before). I grow them in the shade right out of the suns reach, or spotted light through a tree makes them grow well in nature.
germination: 8 -10 days
harvesting: make sure to wear gloves, or test to see if you are immune to the nettles sting ( some people luckily are)
for the best product snip only the leaves off at the top. For quick lazy chop it in stalks. Dry in a warm dry place with lots of ventilation.
if you want to continue to use your spot to harvest over time, cut each stalk in half, leaving bottom growth to branch out and regrow for continuous harvests. Make sure to let them go to seed if in the wild or you could be screwing yourself over in the long run, possibly just when you have your own methods and ratios down.
stinging nettles, the name alone brings fear to some people i know, and im sure its the same way all over the planet. They are covered with little spikes that sting you, though they have a nasty bite, they are at the same time are good soil builders and a EXCELLENT source of nutrients, and wherever most nettles grow you will find healthy rich soil full of life. They are an excellent fertilizer, it has great pest control properties (when used as a liquid fert. Though the plant itself attracts some insects because it is great food for wild critters/bugs along with some beneficials as well), I cant say exactly why but the nettles seem to build the plants "immune" system as i have read some others say. Nettles as companion plants are said to improve essential oils in neighboring plants. I know from observations plants growing next to nettles or downstream from them in the mountains grow much better and healthy.
some of the uses for nettles are as follows
-the main way out there is the liquid soak, take a 5 gallon bucket, fill 1/3 with fresh chopped nettles, fill with stream water if possible, next would be rain and then dechlorinated tap. ( if you dont want as much smell, you can add some lacto bacillus culture( theres a thread here on it do a search) and it will do a major dent in the smell of the final liquid but it is not needed) now let it sit for a few days, then stir, you can take a little bit and apply at 1:1 nettle water:water at this point, then let sit for a week, stir again, you can strain now and dilute 10:1 water:nettle water. At this point you can let it sit longer but it will become really rank, the best option is after the fermentation is done ( bubbles a lot when you stir) strain the material out well and store in jars. Over time( months) the liquid will become clear and loose its smell. This takes the longest to get to but i find it works really good, its basically liquid nettle is what i call it.
-quick fix, take some water in a pan on the stove, add 1 cup nettles to 3 cups water, simmer for 15 mins, itl get green and slightly dark, strain toss the scraps in the compost, dilute the liquid about 1:10 for strong 1:20 for light. I usually add that to about 2-3 gallons, apply and there you go. The fastest way of getting nettles to the plant, all the water soluble nutes are absorbed without the needed microbial breakdown. Then the rest get used up over time with help from the microbes.
-soil amendment ( still doing testing go light at first, then work your way up) ive been drying and crushing nettles into a powder. Adding them to the soil at about a tablespoon per gallon for plants coming out of seedling stage.
-mulch, dried leaves used as mulch, slowly adds nutrients to the soil while keeping it moist. You could probly use the spent stalks after drying too if you chopped them up.
-compost them. Put all plants in a bucket ( stems and everything, preferably not seeded plants), take a 2x4, smash plants till they are brused with a little water,(it even could be lacto B. Water.) add to the compost and watch the heat rise!
growing the nettles: there are three ways to grow nettles, care free, and controlled and soil building.
-care free would be find an optimal spot to grow them, a spot with sun/shade, decent soil, water. Spread seed in early spring later winter, let grow naturally. The only thing you have to watch is to not let the plants go to seed unless you are collecting seed from one plant, remember there are male and female nettles, so you only have to eliminate one of the two.
-the controlled way is a bit more neat than just tossing seed out in a good spot and letting nature do the work. This involves either preparing a site, clearing other weeds and such then spreading seed with some reason, and not just tossing numbers out there. You would let the plants get big, chop off all flowering parts or chop near the base at the bottom 6-8 inches to harvest the top and let the bottom grow a second time for harvesting. At the end of the season, you will harvest the whole top, stems and all, then harvest the main roots as well for drying.
-soil building is the same basic principles of the controlled way, except for the fact nettles are used in a crop rotation system to help build the soil. You can also grow them as a cover crop, for turning into the soil, just make sure the plants are not seeded yet. Some might grow back pick those for drying or eating.
harvest processing of nettles:
drying- drying nettles is probably what most people will end up doing as you can do so much with it, there are a few ways you can let it dry, one is just lay it out in the sun, two would be a shed with good ventilation( possibly hanging) and the last which i do sometimes is leave it in the bag i harvest in( usually canvas to breathe) but ive used plastic many times. Then leave it in a warm shady slightly sunny spot for a week or so.
crushing- i usually do this in a thick very large plastic bag, dump all the dried material in, close it up or hold the top open end, and step on it....put a piece of plywood on it and walk on that, use your imagination. For small amounts you can use a blender or food processor to get the fine stuff ( which works great as a soil amendment or for liquid fpes, as it has high surface area in a powder)
storing- i usually store nettles in a 5 gallon plastic bucket with lid, or in big baggies. I keep my activator nettles in a glass jar as with the rest of the ingredients. Nettles keep for a long time when dried, ive had nettles at least a year old that i used to grow some amazing tomatoes. As long as it doesnt get wet. If your lazy you can just keep it in a garbage bag in a dry cool place. This is what i recommend for most people. If you grow enough in one go you can store enough for a whole years worth or at lest until more are done growing.
Thank you for your post, Nettles are a topic of great interest to me. I have dried and ground the spring growth and mixed it in with my coffee. Right now I am consuming 2 tsp every morning of a seed mix that I harvested in the last month or so. We live in SW Ontario and have plenty of nettles. The plants I recently harvested were hung and dried. I stripped the seed heads of and rubbed them through a colander screen.
Some of the images I come across have pics of seeds that are much larger then the ones I have. Some pics seem to have nettle seeds that look similarly in size to hemp seed. The seed that I have harvested are tiny, wee little pricks . When you eat them you can definitely feel the crunchiness of the seed hull. From the seed mix I get a energy boost throughout the day and seem to have a bit more mental acuity?? I like the nettle and want to do more with them. I have collected some seed, about 5 -6 mason jars worth and plan on growing them along with timothy / alfalfa hay as a mix for our farm animals. The field currently is in recently seeded winter wheat , I have attempted to spread some seed by hand but the field is quite large , 40 acres, so that way of doing things would take a long time and I can't see myself doing a very good job. Next spring the Timothy / Alfalfa seed will be blown on by a big air seeder , so I was thinking I would add the nettle seed to that mix and get it blown on. But is the seed going to germinate and set itself in the soil enough and become a big enough plant by August when the wheat comes off?
The seed would naturally drop and germinate , does the seed germinate right away or does it wait until the following spring?
Basically I want to get it right the first time in this project. If I blow it on and get little or no catch my alternative is to plant transplants started from seed or root divisions, neither seem attractive. I would love to harvest the nettle plant in quantity and guinea pig my farm animals with expected health benefits and easier keeping.
Any input appreciated
I'm a farmer in southwestern ontario too.
The seed is not in the ground yet. Wheat went in mid October 2013 and the hay mix will go in next spring. I found a page loaded with info-
I am in north Huron County, we have a mixed farm, pigs , beef , chicken.
Bees - nettle infusions in syrup strengthens bee colonies:
Dairy cows: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7927251
Swine: nettles plus a few other herbs gave twice the weight gain increase compared to antibiotics! http://psjc.icm.edu.pl/psjc/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?B98-10-35
I live in a farming community where it is common place to apply piles of manure in the fall , onto ground where nothing is going to grow until the next spring. If you could capture those nutrients you could be so much further ahead.
In a perfect world, there would be fiber strains and others with softer stems that could be mixed with hay crops.
The growing tips are less fibrous. I could see growing fodder that is sheared regularly at 18 inches or so off the ground. This would produce a wetter, less fibrous, nutrient dense leaf harvest more suitable as silage than as hay. When fodder is cut a bit longer, the plants recover faster than if they were mowed 3 inches from the dirt as is often done with hay.
I wonder if nettle would survive mixed in with a field of hay? One doesn't see nettle scattered about in nature in hay fields. It grows in large clumps/groupings of stems partly because of its rhizomatous nature. It thrives in a particular niche - a nitrogen rich loose soil and moist conditions. As such, I would grow it in a separate patch with high organic nitrogen and maybe some extra irrigation water if it isn't in a lower wet spot. Being planted separately, it could then also be harvested at the optimum timing.
Besides, there probably won't be enough nettle growth in the first year, if grown from seed, to harvest without hurting the plant; perennial plants I've worked with like MIscanthus giganteus or Silphium perfoliatum are slow to establish and need at least a year without harvesting to develop strong enough rhizomes to survive the winter. But I'm just starting to work with nettle, so I can't say anything for sure yet.
Whatever, I won't be seeding nettle. Agriculture Manitoba ( http://www.gov.mb.ca/cgi-bin/print_hit_bold.pl/agriculture/crops/medicinal/bkq00s07.html?print ) contends that seed germination is very poor and recommends using rhizomes. For this winter, I've planted my selections in waste coco fibre in the greenhouse. This coming spring I'll plant them out in the wettest richest soil we have, and hope they stay ahead of the weeds!
Will keep in touch
from a UK perspective it seems crazy to carry manure to a nettle patch. if you have livestock, grow nettles where their muck already is. or if you import muck, grow nettles on (the edges of?) where you store it. the nettles will continue to make use of the nitrogen that remains in the soil after you move the muck elsewhere for other purposes.
i find they create the loose drier earth you find around their roots. i use manure mulch in my no-dig/no-till veg garden and where i've put less well-rotted manure on top of nettle patches and not weeded the nettles out very thoroughly, the manure has broken down quickly to loose drier compost compared to nearby areas with no nettle roots where the manure stays wetter and takes longer to break down.
my neighbour has a cow barn on some wet land and i'm going to transplant nettle roots to the edges of the ditch that carries mucky water away from the barn area. i will regularly cut the nettles for my compost heap and now perhaps to dry/powder as a soil amendment thanks to reading that really detailed post.
in UK chicken runs you will often see nettles growing. so the nettles are using the fresh chicken manure immediately and the chickens won't eat them fresh. i don't think cows or sheep eat them. not sure about goats.
leanna jones wrote: i don't think cows or sheep eat them. not sure about goats.
I've done a fair bit of stall mucking for people who keep goats and sheep in year round non-rotating pens. The nettles are about the only thing growing in them. Everything else is immediately eaten or trampled. But clumps of nettles (especially around the fence posts) hang in there. So no, from my experience not even goats will eat them raw.
Olivia Helmer wrote:I don't see anyone mentioning cold stratifying seeds. I had none growing wild on my property and to grow them from seed I thought they needed to be cold stratified? I did that and have some baby plants I just planted today. they are very small. they grow wild in this area I just have never seen any on my property of very near it. can the seeds just be sprinkled outside with no stratifying?
You know that's a good question. I didn't do anything specific other than save seeds last fall and sow them this spring but I don't heat my house and it got down to about 10F for a week or so this winter, so I'm totally not sure BUT I have noticed that I usually get seedlings popping up around August too, which is pretty much immediately after the most mature nettles start dropping their seeds - So I'm pretty sure they don't need to go through a cold shock. I'll make a note of specifically trying to harvest and sow this years seed before the temperatures start dipping below 40.
So carefully grabbing some nettles, I put the whole lot into the saucepan and boiled them up with some stock.
It was horrible but I drank a bowl and was proud of my efforts. I have made it correctly and it is only the top shoots of the nettle you use.
Nevertheless, it is still horrible. In my opinion....but perhaps I cannot forget the earlier result..