Nettles are native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America.
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If you have ever brushed against a nettle you will know that the experience is painful. (Fortunately, the leaves of the dock - Rumex obtusifolius - which often grows close by nettle, contain chemicals that neutralize nettle sting.)
Most people think of nettles as a weed, however over the centuries, they have been valuable wild herbs, with edible, cosmetic, medicinal and other uses.
Nettles as Food
The nettle is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins. The young plants have been used in soups, stews, and as a spinach-like vegetable.
In Scotland, oats and nettles were cooked as a porridge, and nettles were used to flavor and color cheese.
The people of Bhutan have been eating nettles since prehistoric times. Nettles of more than one type grow all over Bhutan.
To harvest the plant, people use a thin piece of bamboo bent to make a pair of tongs. They bring them home, wash and boil them and serve half to the family, half to the cattle. For the family, the dish is seasoned with a little salt and some red hot chilli peppers.
Nettle beer can still be bought in the Czech republic and in the north of England where it is traditionally brewed with hops and is called 'Internettle'.
Make nettle lasagna
(and watch a movie on harvesting nettles—for those with fast download!) Stir up a nettle frittata, fettuccini with nettles, or potato-nettle soup
Nettles as Medicine
 Nettles have been used for centuries to treat osteoarthritis, eczema, prostate problems, and dandruff. The leaves contain a natural histamine that may be useful in treating allergies.
Some of the health benefits of eating nettle are said to include: stabilizing blood sugar; enhancing the operation of the circulatory, immune, endocrine, nervous, and urinary systems; reducing fatigue and exhaustion; reducing allergic and menopausal problems; and eliminating chronic headaches.
Nettle medicinal uses
, plus instructions on brewing nettle tea
More nettle medicines
Nettles as Cosmetics
Nettle hair rinse is said to make your hair shine and feel thicker and smoother. To make a hair rinse, collect 2-3 cups of nettle leaves (wear gloves!). Cover with water in a non-reactive saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and cool for use as a rinse after washing your hair.
Nettles as Fibre
The nettle contains long, pliable fibers that can be twisted and used as cordage or spun and woven to make smooth, supple nettle cloth.
The Bhutanese make ropes, string, strong lasting nettle baskets and clothes from stinging nettle fibre.
Making nettle cordage
, with instructions on using other cordage plants. A history of nettle and hemp
as fibre plants, with documentation
Nettles as Paper
Click this link to making nettle paper
, with photographs and plenty of details. Nettle fiber is not "blender friendly," the papermaker says. Colleen D. Bergeron's chronicle of making paper from nettles
Nettles are also cooked and processed as paper.
Nettles For Clothing and Linen
Cloth has been woven from the fibres in mature nettle stems for many centuries - frequently used for tablecloths and sheets in Scotland. It is, however, difficult to ascertain the extent to which it was used as the term nettlecloth came to be used for all manner of fine material whether made from nettle or not.
Similar in texture to those materials produced by flax and hemp fibres, nettle fibre was used alongside that of the nettles' Asian cousin, Ramie ( Boehmeria nivea ).
Clothing made from nettles is not a new idea; for the past 2,000 years people have worn fabrics made from these stinging plants. But nettles lost their popularity when cotton arrived in the 16th century, because cotton was easier to harvest and spin. Nettles made a brief comeback during the First World War, when Germany suffered a shortage of cotton and nettles were used to produce German army uniforms.
A new trend for stinging-nettle fiber has been driven by concern over the environmental damage caused by the production of fabrics such as cotton. In the hunt for new, ecologically friendly fabrics, stinging-nettle fiber has come up looking good.
Now, new advances in spinning technologies and cross-breeding to produce super-high-fiber plants mean that stinging nettles are set to become the latest fashion.
Clothing made from nettles
Nettles as Garden Fertiliser
As liquid compost, nettles make a great fertilizer. Pick them in spring and pack them into a bucket with a lid, adding one-half gallon of water to each pound of nettles. Let sit for 2-3 weeks, stirring occasionally. Strain out the nettles and put them on the compost heap. Use the liquid as a fertilizer (1 cup nettle liquid to 10 cups water), on container and garden plants. In a stronger mixture (1 cup to 5 cups water), you can use it to spray aphids and black fly. The nettle itself is a food plant for butterflies.
Some tips on growing nettles in your garden
(yes, on purpose!), plus a recipe for nettle soup
"Friendly Stinging Nettles"
— more growing tips, plus information on how the nettle "stings"
Nettles as Dye
 A decoction of nettle yields a beautiful and permanent green dye, which is used for woollen stuffs in Russia. The roots, boiled with alum, produce a yellow colour, which was formerly widely used in country districts to dye yarn, and is also employed by the Russian peasants to stain eggs yellow on Maundy Thursday.
Nettles as Fodder
"Nettles are of considerable value as fodder for livestock. When Nettles are growing, no quadruped except the ass will touch them, on account of their stinging power, but if cut and allowed to become wilted, they lose their sting and are then readily cleared up by livestock. In Sweden and Russia, the Nettle has sometimes been cultivated as a fodder plant, being mown several times a year, and given to milch cattle.
"When dried, the proportion of albuminoid matter in Nettles is as high as in linseed cake and the fat content is also considerable.
"The Nettle is also of great use to the keeper of poultry. Dried and powdered finely and put into the food, it increases egg-production and is healthy and fattening. The seeds are also said to fatten fowls. Turkeys, as well as ordinary poultry, thrive on Nettles chopped small and mixed with their food, and pigs do well on boiled Nettles.
"In Holland, and also in Egypt, it is said that horse-dealers mix the seeds of Nettles with oats or other food, in order to give the animals a sleek coat.
 'A Modern Herbal' by Mrs Grieve
DISCLAIMER: This page is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. The author is neither a chemist nor an herbalist and has had no medical training whatsoever. The content herein is the product of research, not practical experience.