Stinging nettle uses: 7 reasons why you should let the weed grow in your garden


I studied horticultural sciences at university and in my free time you can find me in my own patch of land, growing anything with roots. I am particularly passionate about self-sufficiency and seasonal food.

Favourite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberries
Favourite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

Nettles are often considered a pesky weed – but they can be quite useful. We have listed seven ways to make good use of stinging nettles.

Stinging nettle plants
Most people think of stinging nettles as a pesky weed [Photo: waldenstroem/]

Nettles unjustly have a bad reputation, because they can also be used in many ways, both in the garden and in the kitchen. We take a stand for this valuable herb and present seven stinging nettle uses below.

Nettles occur almost worldwide and are either annual or perennial herbaceous plants with woody stems. In Europe, you’ll mainly find the common nettle (Urtica dioica) and the small nettle (Urtica urens). The many thousands of stinging hairs on the leaves and stems of the plants are well known and also give the plant its common name, the stinging nettle. When touched, they break like glass and release the burning liquid, which consists of formic acid, among other things, and gives animals and humans a painful sting. By the way, the fine stinging hairs are always directed upwards, so you can stroke the stem from the bottom upwards quite safely. The roots and above-ground parts can also be used for dyeing fabrics. While the leaves produce a greyish green tint, the roots, with the help of alum, obtain a deep yellow.

1. Stinging nettles for mulching and composting

As every gardener has probably already observed, stinging nettles grow enormously fast in the right places and thus form a lot of biomass. Perfect, therefore, to spread on the beds as a layer of mulch. On the one hand, weeds will germinate much slower or not at all due to a lack of light. On the other hand, soil organisms decompose the nettles over time and in turn provide nutrients to your plants. With a layer of mulch, you also need to water less, because the covered soil loses far less water than exposed soil on hot summer days . In compost, the stinging nettle acts as a kickstarter and thus further accelerates the composting process. This then creates a fertile layer of humus and well-matured compost in no time.

Hand with compost and worms
Nettles improve any compost [Photo: Alf Manciagli/]

2. Nettles as an indicator plant

Stinging nettles act as so-called indicator plants, because they only grow on sites with special characteristics. Wherever they occur, the soil can be expected to have a high nitrogen content. In addition, nettle perennials often also indicate a moist and humus-rich soil. Typically, such sites are ideal for our high-yielding vegetables such as tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), pumpkin (Cucurbita), or potatoes (Solanum tuberosum). So, stinging nettles help to find particularly nitrogen-rich places in the garden.

3. Using nettles as fertiliser

The use of stinging nettles as fertiliser is well known, more precisely as liquid manure. This refers to fermented plant material that gradually transfers its nutrients to water during fermentation. Nettle liquid manure is particularly rich in nitrogen, potassium and micronutrients such as iron, magnesium and calcium and can thus be given regularly as a complete fertiliser. For the fertiliser, it is best to chop soft stems and leaves while they’re still soft and put them in an airtight bucket. Once this is loosely filled to the brim with stinging nettles, add rainwater until the material is well covered and then close the container. Now the slurry needs about two to three weeks in a sunny, warm place until most of the plant parts have decomposed.

Nettles in a bucket of water
The nettle liquid manure ferments in an airtight container for about two weeks [Photo: waldenstroem/]

Once the broth is ready, you can strain it. Coarse stem parts which could not be decomposed will still be left behind. In a ratio of 1:10 to 1:20, mix the broth with water and fertilise your plants with it – preferably on a cloudy day or shortly before rain. This prevents valuable nutrients from simply evaporating. The mixing ratio depends on the nutrient requirements of the plants: 1:10 for heavy feeders, 1:20 or even lower for all others.

4. Nettles as a biological spray

However, stinging nettles are not only useful in fertiliser. The extract can be used directly against all sorts of fungal diseases and pests, first of all, aphids. In this case, the cut stinging nettles are simply left to steep in water for one to two days and the broth is then filtered through a coffee filter, for example. Now vigorously spray the pests with the undiluted ‘broth’. On the one hand, bugs will be deterred by the broth whilst on the other hand, the plant cells will be strengthened by it.

5. Stinging nettles as caterpillar food

For about 50 species of butterflies, stinging nettles serve as an important food source for their caterpillars. Some of our most beautiful native butterflies such as the Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell, as well as some moth species such as the Nettle-tap, prefer nettles as a nursery. Therefore, it is incredibly important to leave stinging nettles in the garden, at least into the summer, for these sometimes endangered butterflies. Some of these species even feed exclusively on the defensible herb – as they are so-called monophages. All the more reason to preserve a few patches of wilderness and “weeds” in the garden and enjoy the colourful winged insects in the summer. Here, you can find out how to keep the adult butterflies happy too.

Peacock caterpillars on a nettle
The caterpillars of the peacock butterfly depend on stinging nettles for food [Photo: PRILL/]

6. Stinging nettle as a medicinal plant

Nettle has been used as a medicinal plant for many centuries. The basic herb has been particularly useful for water retention, rheumatic complaints, and urinary tract infections. The young leaves are often harvested and gently air-dried so that they can later be brewed as tea. But the fresh herb can be brewed. To do this, put three to four teaspoons of stinging nettle in a cup and add 250 millilitres of boiling water. After about ten minutes, strain out the leaves. This tea can be consumed three times a day without worry.

7. Nettles in the kitchen

Many distrust the stinging nettle as soon as it comes to food. After all, the idea of being stung in the mouth and on the tongue probably does not appeal to anyone. But with a little trick, you can remove the annoying stinging hairs from the leaves. After careful washing, you can roll a rolling pin over the hairs a few times, the burning should soon be gone. So you’ll even be able to enjoy a fresh nettle salad without any worries. The nettle becomes a special delicacy when its leaves are prepared like spinach, i.e. cooked. But stinging nettle also brings healthy vitamins and nutrients into the kitchen in smoothies and soups. In addition, from July onward you can harvest the immature seeds, or the ripe dark brown seeds from October onward. Dried and roasted, they develop a nutty aroma and are thus suitable for salad dressings, but also taste good in mueslis and many other dishes. The seeds of the nettle are rich in oils and nutrients, enriching our diet until winter.

A glass teacup of nettle tea
A tea made from nettle herb is effective against rheumatic complaints [Photo: Madeleine Steinbach/]
Subscribe to the Plantura newsletter