What Is a Stinging Nettle?
A stinging nettle is one of a group of plants that have stinging bristles. They are coarse herbs found in the northern temperate regions.
Nettles grow to be four feet tall. They have toothed leaves that grow in pairs opposite each other. The bristles of the nettle contain a watery juice that produces an intense itch when it enters a person’s skin. This itch does not last long. In places where the skin is thick, nettle bristles usually have no effect.
Young shoots of nettles can be cooked and eaten. The great nettle of Europe, which now also can be found in the United States, has sometimes been cultivated for its fiber, from which a strong, coarse cloth can be made.
The species is divided into six subspecies, five of which have many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals. The plant has a long history of use as a source of medicine, food, and fiber.