Stinging Nettle is generally considered a pesky weed and in small gardens can be a bit of a challenge. Plant it where the unfamiliar rambler won’t get caught up in its wicked sting. It grows readily where the ground is moist and is often found near manure or compost piles, hence it prefers moist, rich soil. If you have a spot like this on your property it will flourish. You can also wild harvest and forage for it around riparian areas. If you do, make sure you are collecting the correct plant from a clean, herbicide and pesticide-free zone.
Harvest & Parts Used
All parts of the stinging nettle plant are used for medicine. Harvest the leaves young, on 12” growth, clip off the top 6”, it is edible and used as a substitute for spinach or kale. Do not consume the herb fresh, cooking and drying dissipate the sting. You may get three leaf harvests from April to June. I don’t have experience harvesting the seeds or rhizomes, but both are used by natural medicine and pharmaceutical companies. Suit up with long sleeves and gloves before you harvest to avoid the sting, that lasts for about 24 hours.
Drying & Storage
Once you harvest nettle, get it out of the sun as soon as possible. The sun causes it to decay quickly and the leaves will brown and not be usable. Lay the stems with leaves on screened trays, or band and hang, in a dark area, where the temperature is between 90-105 degrees with good airflow. Drying herbs low and slow maintains more of their volatile medicinal compounds. Nettle usually dries in 48 hours or less. Get your gloves on and test it by crunching the leaves off the stem. If they separate easily from the stem they are ready.
The options for processing Stinging Nettle are broad. It is an edible and nutritive herb used in stir-fries, with eggs, and in bone broth for added vitamins and minerals. It makes a tasty mineral-rich vinegar. It can be consumed as a tea, on its own, but more often blended with other medicinal herbs. It is not a good candidate for a tincture. One of my favorite things to make with Stinging Nettle is garden lasagna with Yarrow and Comfrey for the worm’s winter forage, on top of my garden beds, under a blanket of hay and woodchips. The worms love it!