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My nettle experiment is officially over. I pulled them out today.  RSS feed

 
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About 5 months ago I planted a bunch of stinging nettles. I mostly planted them under our orange trees (a Washington navel, a blood orange, and the Valencia) with the intention of them being a magnet for lady bugs as a part of the greater guild under and around those trees. Citrus tends to attract aphids. I thought that it would be a great combo. Further, I was interested in eating the nettles, having heard rave reviews of them as a wild green.

Their growth was fantastic, and as of this afternoon, many of the plants were over 3 feet tall -- some as tall as 4 feet. They grew nicely throughout the winter, and I didn't lose a single plant. So great was their growth, they had swallowed up pretty much everything else in the guild. That's not good.

In all this time, I haven't seen a single ladybug on them. Not one. Perhaps I was misinformed as to their ladybug drawing capabilities. What I have found that they are very good at stinging me. I've brushed up against them so many times and have come away with the little welts to prove it . . . I'm getting tired of it. Since we live in Southern California, I wear shorts year round and every time I go to pick oranges, I accidently brush up against the nettles. My wife was picking apricots today and she stumbled into one of the nettles planted by the tree. She wasn't happy about it.

On the eatable front: I really wasn't that crazy about them. It was a textural thing. After watching one of Paul's videos about nettle lasagna, we tried it. Even with young, tender leaves that we blanched in boiling water first before we added them to the lasagna, the texture of the leaves was fuzzy. I've tried chopping them up quite fine . . . which was OK, I suppose. I'll throw finely minced nettles into sweet potato hash and that's OK, but I really wasn't crazy about them in eggs or other dishes. I liked using the nettles in a pesto, but how much pesto do you use?

So I had enough nettles to feed an army, with a limited need for so many of them. After my dear bride got stung today, I started pulling them out. THEN I realized how extensive the root system on them is. Oh my. They had sent roots out 2+ feet in every direction. I may have nettles popping up for some time now. Because we use wood chips extensively in our integrated food forest as our base mulch, it's a perfect growing medium for nettles to send their roots out in every direction.

Lessons learned:

1. I thought that nettles would be a beneficial insect attractor. If they are, I've not seen evidence of it. I'm not saying that they don't, but in my experience, I don't have any evidence that they attract lady bugs or any other beneficial insect.

2. Nettles grow REALLY well in Southern California.

3. Nettles grow REALLY well in a Back to Eden chip-mulched soils.

4. Nettles send out a massive root base. The roots were easy enough to pull, as they were mostly growing in loose wood chips, but I'm pretty sure I didn't get them all. When you get under the center of the root mass and yank them out, they kind of look like an asparagus root ball. Tons and tons of 2mm roots going in every direction. Like mint or other invasive plants that spread via the roots, if you are going to plant nettles, put them in a place where they aren't going to escape from captivity.

5. Even with gloves and a long sleeved shirt, you are going to get stung. In my case, stung a lot. As I type, my wrists are still warm with the buzz of nettle stings.

6. Choose your location wisely. I wish I had an out-of-the-way location where I could plant them and not worry about them. As a companion plant for a tree guild, they don't seem to play well with others. They were taking over the whole area, and it's not even the heart of the growing season yet. They need their own space. Further, planting them as I did next to trees that I needed to access frequently (orange trees get picked continually from Christmas till July), I should have known better. My bad, not the nettles.

7. For my area, there are easier perennial greens like chaya or tree kale that are even more nutritious, just as easy to grow, but that don't try to blister you every time you get close.

8. A couple of nettle plants go a long way. You don't need to plant 40 of them, as I did.

9. There are no bad plants. Just good plants in bad locations. I haven't entirely soured on nettles, but I now realize that my primary mistake was choosing a poor location.

10. If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't learning. Everyone should make a couple of errors like this a year. Live and learn.

So now I've got a big pile of biomass that will be put to good use somewhere in the system. I'll turn the compost pile tomorrow and add the nettles.
 
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I live in northeast Texas and we have a nasty nettle here we call a bull nettle. It is with great amusement I read about people actually planting nettles on purpose. Personally I think they're nuts (the flogging can begin). I would NEVER plant those nasties on purpose, no matter what their benefits to the guild might be. As far as eating them, there are lots of really yummy greens out there that don't sting like a million fire ants, just because I walked by. So the culinary delights of eating nettles somehow escapes me. Yes, there are bull nettles on our 8 acres. I hate them. There I said it. I HATE FREAKING NETTLES. I chop them down. I want them to DIE.

While you might have been fooled into planting nettles on purpose, thank your lucky stars that you have seen the light, not filtered through a nettle leaf. You have come back to reason and obliterated your nettles. Or at least you are trying to, you will now have nettles for a very long time. Being a nettle hater probably doesn't make me popular around here, but what the heck, I've been unpopular before. LOL
 
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Is the Bull Nettle the one called "Mala Mujer" (Bad Woman)? If so, it has edible seeds. But they are difficult to obtain! I covet the Mala Mujer, because I knew of only one plant in my neighborhood, but it seems to have died. I would love some seeds of her.

 
Dana Jones
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Tyler are you out of your mind? You REALLY WANT these demon plants to grow on your land?? I just looked up Mala Mujer and indeed, they are one and the same. The article I was reading had comments and one said he dug up a root 4' long and bigger around than his leg. Geesh! No wonder they are so hard to kill! Another comment said to pour gasoline on them and they would die. This I will try even though I am anti chemical everything, due to being so sensitive that I can't even use scented products of anything. But, I truly enjoy your posts and your wisdom (except when it comes to bull nettles) and I will try to harvest some seeds (with needle nose pliers) for you this fall. I can't believe I'm actually participating in the proliferation of these malignant monsters. I hate them.
 
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Dana Jones wrote:Tyler are you out of your mind? You REALLY WANT these demon plants to grow on your land??


Tyler's very interested in native food plants. Furthermore- AFAIK- she's very interested in biomass plants that grow successfully and easily without irrigation.

I just looked up Mala Mujer and indeed, they are one and the same. The article I was reading had comments and one said he dug up a root 4' long and bigger around than his leg. Geesh! No wonder they are so hard to kill!


Sounds like a solution to me. Keep cutting it back in the summer and use that root to keep growing biomass as you chop it out. Eventually it'll give up.
 
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A while back there was a book promoted here called 'Around The World In 80 Plants' by Stephen Barstow,

He has a section in the book dedicated to the nettles, and mentions the stingless nettle (Urtica galeopsifolia). There's a very charming picture of Mr. Barstow burying his face in a clump of this fen nettle. He also mentions Urtica dioica ssp. sondenii & Urtica dioica var. holosericea as being, and I quote, "almost stingless".

It seems these plants with reduced...stingyness? would be the choice specimens for any area frequented by people.

With that said, I've never grown nettles and have never attempted to eat them, so that's all I have to say about a topic that I'm ignorant on!
 
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We have a very healthy population of multiple species of lady bugs on our property. When I do have an aphid outbreak they locate and then eradicate the aphids on the infested plants within a week.

When I'm not having an outbreak they seem to be attracted, in general, to the same plants as bees and butterflies. The most common uncultivated plant I see them on is the thistles, the most common cultivated plant has been the Dill. In the summer and fall they're often on the bush sunflowers (which are just about to start blooming).

If you're looking for double duty (attracting beneficial insects and edible) you might look into using the area around your trees for assorted edible herbs. My rosemary bloomed at the end of winter, then the sage, the thymes are in full bloom right now (expect it to last a couple months). The garlic chives will be next, and I expect the winter savory to bloom as the chives fade. Their scent is also supposed to confuse the non beneficial insects so they don't find other crops hidden among the herbs. If you can't tell, planting herbs is one of my favorite gardening techniques.
 
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Our nettles in Alaska also sting, but not as bad as others. I remember just brushing my leg on a himalayan stinging nettle in north India and having a painful welt for days; ours, in contrast create a slight itch if you brush them, and a buzzing sting for a few hours if you pick a bunch of them without gloves. They also seem to be a dominant understory plant only at a certain time, (very visible for the past month or so, but will soon be hidden among the ferns and grasses). I find them delicious when young and tender, especially fried in oil. the older plants i don't enjoy eating at all, but i still love tea made from them, its a totally different experience but still very healthful, so drying them and making tea might be another solution to your 'too much nettles' issue!
 
Dana Jones
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Kyrt Ryder wrote:

Dana Jones wrote:Tyler are you out of your mind? You REALLY WANT these demon plants to grow on your land??


Tyler's very interested in native food plants. Furthermore- AFAIK- she's very interested in biomass plants that grow successfully and easily without irrigation.

I just looked up Mala Mujer and indeed, they are one and the same. The article I was reading had comments and one said he dug up a root 4' long and bigger around than his leg. Geesh! No wonder they are so hard to kill!


Sounds like a solution to me. Keep cutting it back in the summer and use that root to keep growing biomass as you chop it out. Eventually it'll give up.



LOL Kyrt! I know Tyler plants lots of natural foods. She PM'ed me and I am going to harvest seeds and send them to her. I have had run-ins with Bull Nettles and I absolutely despise them. But if Tyler wants them, I shall be more than to happy to grant her wishes. Then I'll kill the rest of the darn things.
 
Tyler Ludens
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This claims the tuber is edible: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/cnidoscolus-stimulosus/

More confusion about edibility and exactly what plant are we talking about: http://www.eattheweeds.com/getting-to-the-leaf-of-the-problem/
 
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Marco Banks wrote:My nettle experiment is officially over. I pulled them out today.



You really think that will end the experiment? Bwah, ha ha ha!!!

That's about like me saying that I ended my sunroot breeding program by mowing off the plants!
 
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Only slightly related, but if you chew up plantain (the plant, not the banana looking thing) and smear it on the affected area, the stinging will stop.
 
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In Texas where I live we have Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica); they are bad enough and I am glad they are not Bull nettles. Mine are hard to get rid of. I wear gloves and use needle nose pliers and make sure that they are not left on the ground but put into the trash in a sealed plastic bag. After reading all the good comments about nettles maybe I should have dried them!

I only have a few left and they don't cause a problem where they are at so I leave them alone.

Nice to know about Plantain, as we have those also.
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

You really think that will end the experiment?



Yeah, I've been pulling mine out for the past 13 years...!
 
Todd Parr
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You can get rid of them by covering them with something that will not break down. I use black rubber sheeting over the area. It takes a while, but much less than 13 years
 
Galadriel Freden
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Todd Parr wrote:You can get rid of them by covering them with something that will not break down. I use black rubber sheeting over the area. It takes a while, but much less than 13 years



I believe you But to tell the truth, I haven't been trying too hard as I find it to be pretty useful in general, whether as food, medicine, compost, or intruder deterrent. When my suppy exceeds demand, I just chop and drop them.
 
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Another voice here, on the Tyler side of the equation. Someone gave me three nettle plants several years ago. I planted them where they would get decent sun and water, out of the way. by now I thought I would have that tangle of regret and more than enough nettle for tea (natural antihistamine, vitamins minerals and protein, but no, I have one little straggler still alive but barely.

Any of you nettle fighters have any advice on location and conditions nettles like? Maybe I can get a happy medium where I get enough nettles and yet they don't take over?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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In the wildlands around here, nettles are most frequently found growing near wetlands. Not in the stream bed, but nearby. In areas where the soil stays mostly moist.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi Joseph, I planted my nettles next to a frequently used irrigation furrow. Maybe I need to get a more constant moisture level, and richer soil? If that's the case, then limiting them would also be pretty easy, just surround the future "nettle patch" with dryer soil. What do you think?
 
Galadriel Freden
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Thekla, I believe nettles like a lot of nitrogen. Over here they seem to grow best in part or full shade, with consistent moisture: under trees, next to hedges and shrubs, etc.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Thanks, Galadriel, (and wow, in my experience that is a name straight out of the legends of King Arthur! How delightful to "meet" someone by that name.)

Interesting,about your comment, I have them in partial shade, but the shade is a high canopy with no middle layers, and we get very intense sun, so though I may provide them with a location where they receive a little more light, I'm glad to know that my childhood memory of the situations in which I got stung were correct re light. The idea of more nitrogen I think is germane. When I planted them I had no understanding of soil food web, kind of thought light and water were the determining factors, with some consideration to humus and pH. The currentl location is very poor soil and though next to an irrigation furrow, the sandiness of the soil, with no humus and essentially no live perennial roots I think means that it could easily dry out between uses of the furrow.

So, since moving them to a richer location is easier than instant change of the soil where they currently are. I really expect that when I get them in the right place they will take off. That POVis also validated in this thread by mention of the danger of invasiveness. I'm forewarned! Does anyone know if goats will eat them?
 
Todd Parr
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My nettles grow in an area that gets 4 or 5 hours of sun. The area was a flower garden for the previous owner and I would agree that fertile soil seems to help them. As Joseph said, that area does have more moisture too.
 
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Does anyone know if goats will eat them?

I had a pigmy goat as a pet 15 years or so ago and she loved nettles. Or at least loved stripping the leaves off them, don't recall which for certain.
 
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Supposedly, nettle tea is great for your plants....providing nitrogen. Haven't tried it yet. Have lots growing on the creek bank though.
Nettle stings are supposed to be good for you too ( just like honeybee stings are good for arthritis), haven't tried either of these (on purpose) yet either. Just what I've always heard.
For those stung and bothered by nettle, there's an old saying - "Nettle in dock out, dock takes the nettle out." So if you've got some dock nearby, try it. I'm sure plantain works too, that's what I use for bee stings/ bug bites.
 
Marco Banks
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Karen Layne wrote:
Nettle stings are supposed to be good for you too ( just like honeybee stings are good for arthritis), haven't tried either of these (on purpose) yet either. Just what I've always heard.
For those stung and bothered by nettle, there's an old saying - "Nettle in dock out, dock takes the nettle out." So if you've got some dock nearby, try it. I'm sure plantain works too, that's what I use for bee stings/ bug bites.



If this is true, I'll live to be 193. I've paid my dues.

You know another way to deal with nettle stings? Run the nettles over with the lawn-mower, and then tear them out by the roots wearing a double pair of welder's gloves. Then burn the garden. Then burn it a second time.

Or . . . I should have just planted them in a smarter location.

I thought I'd pulled them out, but I found another plant hiding behind some tansy. So I think I'll let it go to seed, collect the seed, and find a better location to plant them next winter.
 
Marco Banks
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An update on this old thread:

I can report that once I pulled those nettles, none of them returned.  Shocking, I know.  I expected to find volunteer nettles for the next ten years.  They've not come back, and at the risk of tempting fate, I would say that any nettle seeds that did exist in that space were buried in wood-chip mulch several times since then, so now if there are still there, they are buried below a couple of inches of biomass and have most likely decomposed.

And I don't miss them.

As as I said the OP, there are no bad plants, just good plants that are growing in the wrong location.  For those of you who are nettle lovers, more power to you, but I never acquired a taste for them.  Moringa and other greens have filled the dietary space that nettles occupied.
 
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I'm sorry it didn't work better for you, Marco.

Personally, and I know some don't share this opinion, I don't think that plants with such an aggressive defense mechanism are well-suited to cultivation. I think there are logical reasons why the Romans didn't legislate the planting of fields of nettle, and why other plant species have dominated the fibre and textile industry, historically speaking.

Which, I suppose, is a shame. I mean, imagine if nettles could produce a quantity of fiber per plant to rival other fibre producers, a crop of greens, and a seed crop at the end. Everyone would be cultivating such a useful plant.

I wonder if they still taste fuzzy in smoothies?

-CK

 
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I can attest that nettle soup is a perfectly agreeable dish. By the time those leaves are pureed there's no hint of fuzz and of course heat denatures the sting.

Sharon planted some nettles in her herb garden a few years ago and came to the same conclusion as you, Marco...it's one thing to have a nettle patch in a far corner where you're not going very often, but really just a Bad Idea to have them anywhere near places you want to move around unmolested. The experiment ended abruptly and we went back to picking from the pre-existing population at the opposite end of the property where the stock tend to rest under some trees.
 
Chris Kott
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Good to know, Phil.

Just thought I would link this thread I started on nettle yield.

-CK
 
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I LOVE my nettles. They live in one of my hedges and so they're really easy to avoid, but still not too far from the house. I love nettle tea, and kind of frying the leaves so they get crunchy. Mine have never tasted or felt fuzzy, and I've eaten them early in the spring and even after they've gone to seed. I wonder if it's the variety?

But, yeah, I wouldn't want them anywhere where I'd have to go through them to get to something else. Definitely not under a fruit tree. I don't even like picking the salmonberry that grow amidst them for fear of getting poked!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Phil Stevens wrote:I can attest that nettle soup is a perfectly agreeable dish. By the time those leaves are pureed there's no hint of fuzz and of course heat denatures the sting.



I am hyper sensitive to fuzz on plants. So for me, cooking and pureeing does not make nettles enjoyable to eat.
 
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Some plants with hairy leaves have developed the hairs to reduce moisture loss from transpiration/evaporation. I wonder if perhaps the nettle's defenses are actually fiercer in arid climates, which would go some way toward explaining the different levels of sting reported by people in different regions.
 
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Stinging nettles are a very good indicator plant for rich, fertile soil. They are also very useful for cordage fiber made by retting the winter killed stems. I agree that they are best kept in your zone 5, or if necessary, in an escape proof bed. In Eastern Kansas, nettles are one of the first perennials to put up shoots in the Spring, and are a welcome source of greens. Shoots 2-3 inches high are the most tender and flavorful in my opinion. They also have very little sting at that size. Just wear a pair of cotton or rubber gloves when picking them. You can extend your harvest by cutting the shoots down to the ground even if you don't need them so that a continual harvest of baby shoots is available for several weeks.

Also, no discussion of nettles would be complete without this ...

Old Mr.B! Riddle-me-ree!
Hitty Pitty within the wall,
Hitty Pitty without the wall;
If you touch Hitty Pitty,
Hitty Pitty will bite you!

- Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin
 
Phil Stevens
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Alicia - I haven't run across any dryland nettles. We have a species here in NZ, and which grows pretty extensively in this area, called the tree nettle. Urtica ferox, usually more of a bush than a tree, favours the eastern (slightly drier) side of the dividing mountains. It is amazingly nasty and can actually kill people who have a sensitivity to the irritant. I've had a brush with it, so slight that I barely felt it, but within a minute it felt like a cluster of wasp stings. Not nice stuff.

 
Nicole Alderman
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john Harper wrote: I agree that they are best kept in your zone 5, or if necessary, in an escape proof bed. In Eastern Kansas, nettles are one of the first perennials to put up shoots in the Spring, and are a welcome source of greens.



Mine are in my zone 2/3, and I like it that way because I can quickly harvest some for dinner, and do so while my kids play in the yard. My property is 5 acres, and if I had nettle in my zone 5, I'd never eat it, because I'd have to haul my kids all the way outthere to harvest them, and that takes more time than I have right now!

What I find controls them really well is mowing. Sure, they'll try to grow up in the grass/lawn, but they get cut right down. Since mine are in a hedge that boarders my pasture, I just walk away from the hedge and easily avoid them.

Attached is an old picture (it was easy to find, lol!) with the area of my nettle patch indicated. This picture was taken about 20 steps from my front door. It's not far from my house distance-wise, but easy to avoid and to maintain.
I-love-my-nettle-.png
[Thumbnail for I-love-my-nettle-.png]
My zone 5 is at the top of the hill and in the woods. Waaay to far to go while watching kids or in a hurry to get dinner started!
 
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I plan on adding nettles to some of my hedgerows once I'm done planting them and the other plants get established. The hedgerows are mainly for privacy and nettles are a great way to keep people from trying to push through the hedgerow

Question for you all - do deer push through nettles or do they go around nettle patches?
 
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My deer aren't good indicators, since they have easy paths around the nettles. I've never seen them go through them, but there's easy paths to take rather than going through the dense nettles/salmonberries. I see them munching in that area all the time, but I don't know if they're eating the nettles or the salmonberry leaves (they sure do eat salmonberies, which is all well and good for me!)
 
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My casual observation is that nettles that grow on edges of woods - heavy shade, but sunlight on one side - tend to be broader leaved, less hairy, and less coarse. They are generally softer and more palatable. The ones that grow in direct sunlight have smaller, coarser leaves.
 
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Michael Cox wrote: My casual observation is that nettles that grow on edges of woods - heavy shade, but sunlight on one side - tend to be broader leaved, less hairy, and less coarse. They are generally softer and more palatable. The ones that grow in direct sunlight have smaller, coarser leaves.



Well, that explains why mine are so good! That's the exact conditions of half of my nettle. The other half probably doesn't even get direct sunlight. Mine are also growing in very wet ground. And it doesn't get too hot here during the spring, so that might help, too.
 
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It's crazy to me how adaptive this plant is.  I'm in zone 9b/10 and they grew very well for me (before I yanked them).  Others in this thread are in zone 2 and they have equally seen robust growth.  Normally, that would make it a permaculture superstar plant, and perhaps it is, but not one without its drawbacks and critics.

Everyone has such different needs and differing environmental circumstances.

I don't have deer.  Doubt we ever will.

I can't see myself making rope, given that we live about a half-mile from a Home Depot.

Like others in this thread, I'm not crazy about the fuzziness, which is why I also don't like Swiss Chard (but the chickens do, so I grow it).

So to each his own.  But what I LOVE about this forum is that so many people from so many different regions and walks-of-life can come together and share with enthusiasm, intelligence, creativity, and good-spirited mutual respect about something as random as a plant that tries to sting the person who planted it.  In an age where people seem so polarized and critical, fueled by social media and the whole infotainment-telesector, its refreshing to come onto the Permies forums and hear from so many diverse voices and perspectives.  Thank you all.  Merry Christmas to you and yours, and a cup of nettle tea to all.
 
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