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

 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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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.
 
Dana Jones
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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
 
Tyler Ludens
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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.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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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.
 
Dylan Mulder
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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!
 
Casie Becker
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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.
 
Corey Schmidt
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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/
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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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!
 
Todd Parr
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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.
 
Anne Miller
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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.
 
Galadriel Freden
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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.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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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.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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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.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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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.
 
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