1. Family: Urticaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Urtica L.
      1. Urtica dioica L.

        The nettle is well known for its toothed, hairy leaves and for its sting. The painful sensation of nettle stings occurs when toxins from specialised hairs are delivered into the skin. Each stinging hair has a bulbous tip which breaks off to leave a sharp, needle-like tube that pierces the skin and injects histamine and acetylcholine, causing itching and burning that may last up to 12 hours.

    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    The nettle is one of the most useful plants in Britain and even its sting can be beneficial. The painful sensation of nettle stings occurs when toxins from specialised hairs are delivered into the skin. Each stinging hair has a bulbous tip which breaks off to leave a sharp, needle-like tube that pierces the skin and injects histamine and acetylcholine, causing itching and burning that may last up to 12 hours.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Urtica dioica is widespread through Europe and North America, and also occurs in North Africa and parts of Asia. There are naturalised populations in several other parts of the world.

    Description

    This species is a herbaceous perennial, which grows as an upright plant to 2 m tall. The soft, serrated leaves are opposite each other in pairs on the stem. The leaves and the rest of the plant are coated in stinging and non-stinging hairs. The plant spreads by underground roots which are noticeably yellow. The tiny greenish-white flowers, each with four petals, are densely clustered on elongated inflorescences towards the top of the stem. Urtica dioica is divided into at least five subspecies, each of which is slightly different.

    Threats and conservation

    This plant is not threatened and is a common weed.

    The stinging nettle is of great benefit to UK wildlife, and its growth is often actively encouraged by conservation groups. It supports over 40 species of insects, including small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies.

    Uses

    Nettles have been used for centuries for a multitude of purposes, and continue to be harvested from the wild for food and medicine today.

    Nettles are eaten as a vegetable; cooking will destroy the stings. The tender, young shoots and leaves - the most palatable parts - are the main ingredient in nettle soup, which has a reputation for 'cleansing the blood'. Historically, puddings and beer were made with nettles. Today, the mature leaves are used in the production of cheese (notably Cornish Yarg) and in pesto, cordials and herbal tea. Nettles have also been used to yield vegetable protein similar to tofu made from soya ( Glycine max ). In some parts of Britain (eg Orkney) the leaves are traditionally fed to pigs to fatten them.

    Nettles have been used for a variety of medicinal purposes. A tonic prepared from the leaves is still among the most popular plant remedies used today. One traditional remedy for rheumatism involves deliberately stinging the afflicted area with nettle leaves! While this may seem strange, research has shown that nettle stings have anti-inflammatory properties that disrupt the NF-κB pathway and inhibit other inflammatory responses. Extracts of the root are used to treat benign prostate hyperplasia. Scientists have identified a variety of biochemical properties in extracts of nettles that support their uses in herbal medicine.

    Nettle stems contain tough fibres and can be used in textiles; the fibre was widely used to this effect in Germany and Austria during the First World War. Nettles can also be used for dyeing fabric. Horticulturalists sometimes use nettles, which are rich in nutrients, to produce a type of liquid plant feed. The leaves are used in cosmetics.

    Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Four

    Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox - the seeds of this plant survive being dried without significantly reducing their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB

    Germination testing: Successful

    Composition values: Oil content 23.1 - 32.6%, Protein 15.5%

    Cultivation

    Although not cultivated at Kew, this perennial species is planted as a crop elsewhere. Until recently it was cultivated in Scotland, Denmark and Norway for use in food, textile and medical industries. This species can be propagated by seed or by rhizome (that is an underground stem that grows horizontally) division. Abundant seed is produced and can be collected in late autumn, before frost causes seed-fall. The seed does not pass through a dormant stage and can germinate just days after maturity. Open ground is preferred for germination. Rhizome division can be carried out from spring through to late summer.

    As deep, rich soils are preferred by this species, a substrate rich in organic matter is recommended, with nutrition added. This species responds well to generous watering. Given the tendency to flop, it is recommended that nettles be grown with support, such as that provided by pea sticks if a neat appearance is required. Control of the spread of the rhizomes can be carried out by using a pot or polyurethane barrier in the soil.

    If the purpose of cultivation is to provide for butterflies, large discrete clumps should be grown where eggs will usually be laid on leaves on the outside of the clumps. As young foliage is generally preferred, cutting can be carried out to produce fresh growth. Gloves are required for handling the plants.

    Where to see this species at Kew

    This species is not cultivated at Kew. However, a natural population is allowed to grow in the Natural Areas (Conservation Area) where it is of benefit to the native fauna. Nettles can usually be seen close to the Badger Sett. Nettles are a food source for many butterfly and moth larvae, and ladybirds benefit from the aphids that thrive there. The numerous seeds produced in late summer are an important food source for many native birds.

    What would you use nettles for?

    Nettles are one of the popular plant remedies used in the United Kingdom. Kew is collecting people's memories of nettles and other plant remedies for the Ethnomedica project. Many people remember using nettles in a tonic and to relieve rheumatism. What would you use nettles for?

    If you would like to share your remembered remedies with us, please email ethnomedica@kew.org. 

    Distribution
    United Kingdom, USA
    Ecology
    Wasteland, hedgerows, fields and woods. Nettles do particularly well in soils with high levels of nitrogen and are often found growing around abandoned buildings.
    Conservation
    Classified as Least Concern by IUCN Red List criteria.
    Hazards

    Nettle stings are irritating and poisonous but are very rarely serious.

    [KSP]
    Use
    Food, medicine, textiles, plant feed, cosmetics.

    Images

    Distribution

    Native to:

    Albania, Algeria, Altay, Austria, Baltic States, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Buryatiya, Central European Rus, Corse, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, East Aegean Is., East European Russia, Finland, France, Føroyar, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Irkutsk, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Krasnoyarsk, Krym, Morocco, Netherlands, North European Russi, Northwest European R, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sardegna, Sicilia, South European Russi, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tadzhikistan, Tunisia, Turkey-in-Europe, Tuva, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, West Siberia, Yugoslavia

    Introduced into:

    Alabama, Alaska, Argentina Northeast, Bolivia, Brazil Northeast, Brazil South, Brazil Southeast, British Columbia, California, Cape Provinces, Chile Central, Chile South, Colombia, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Ecuador, Eritrea, Falkland Is., Florida, Georgia, Greenland, Guatemala, India, Khabarovsk, Libya, Maine, Maryland, Masachusettes, Michigan, Missouri, New Brunswick, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Zealand North, New Zealand South, Newfoundland, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Ontario, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Primorye, Prince Edward I., Québec, Tennessee, Tristan da Cunha, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Yakutskiya

    Common Names

    English
    Nettle

    Urtica dioica L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
    Jan 1, 2011 Day, C.D. [721], Turkey K000341581
    Cope, T.A. [RBG 17], Great Britain K000914036

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 984 (1753)

    Accepted by

    • Bailey, C. & al. (2015). Guide to the Vascular Plants of Tennessee: 1-813. University of Tennessee press.
    • Dobignard, A. & Chatelain, C. (2013). Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 5: 1-451. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève.
    • Jørgensen, P.M., Nee, M.H. & Beck., S.G. (eds.) (2013). Catálogo de las plantas vasculares de Bolivia Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 127: 1-1741. Missouri Botanical Garden.
    • Dimopoulos, P., Raus, T., Bergmeier, E., Constantinidis, T., Iatrou, G., Kokkini, S., Strid, A., & Tzanoudakis, D. (2013). Vascular plants of Greece. An annotated checklist: 1-372. Botanic gardens and botanical museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin and Hellenic botanical society, Athens.
    • Lazkov, G.A. & Sultanova, B.A. (2011). Checklist of vascular plants of Kyrgyzstan Norrlinia 24: 1-166.
    • Idárraga-Piedrahita, A., Ortiz, R.D.C., Callejas Posada, R. & Merello, M. (eds.) (2011). Flora de Antioquia: Catálogo de las Plantas Vasculares 2: 1-939. Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín.
    • Kral, R., Diamond, A.R., Ginzbarg, S.L., Hansen, C.J., Haynes, R.R., Keener, B.R., Lelong, M.G., Spaulding, D.D. & Woods, M. (2011). Annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Alabama: 1-112. Botanical reseach institute of Texas.
    • Maliya, S.D. & Datt, B. (2010). A contribution to the flora of Katarniyaghat wildlife sanctuary, Baharaich district, Uttar Pradesh Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 34: 42-68.
    • Mateos, M.A. & Valdés, B. (2009). Catálogo de la flora vascular del Rif occidental calizo (N de Marruecos). I Selaginellaceae - Rosaceae Lagascalia 29: 105-257.
    • Weigend, M. & Luebert, F. (2009). Weeding the nettles I: Clarifying species limits in perennial, rhizomatous Urtica (Urticaceae) from southern and central Chile and Argentina Phytotaxa 2: 1-12.
    • Gremmen, N. & Halbertsma, R.L. Gremmen, N. & Halbertsma, R.L. (2009). Alien plants and their impact on Tristan da Cunha 2: 1-307. Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP).
    • Jones, R.L. (2005). Plant life of Kentucky. An illustrated guide to the vascular flora: 1-833. The universitry press of Kentucky.
    • Krasnoborov, I.M. & Malyshev, L.I. (2003). Flora of Siberia 5: 1-305. Scientific Publishers, Inc., Enfield, Plymouth.
    • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
    • Broughton, D.A. & McAdam, J.H. (2002). The non-native vascular flora of the Falkland islands Botanical Journal of Scotland 54: 153-190.
    • Jørgensen, P.M. & León-Yánez, S. (eds.) (1999). Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Ecuador Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 75: i-viii, 1-1181. Missouri Botanical Garden.
    • Abdulina, S.A. (1999). Spisok Sosudistykn Rastenii Kazakhstana: 1-187. Academy of Sciences, Almaty, Kazakhstan.
    • Flora of North America Editorial Committee (1997). Flora of North America North of Mexico 3: 1-590. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.
    • Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1993). Flora Europaea ed. 2, 1: 1-581. Cambridge University Press.
    • Barkalov, V.Y. (ed.) (1991). Plantae Vasculares Orientalis Extremi Sovietici 5: 1-388. Nauka, Leningrad.
    • Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (eds.) (1989 publ. 1990). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 3: 1-659. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.
    • Ovczinnikov, P.N. (ed.) (1968). Flora Tadzhikskoi SSR 3: 1-710. Izd-vo Akademii nauk SSSR, Moskva.
    • Korovin, E.P. & Vvedensky, A.I. (eds.) (1953). Flora Uzbekistana 2: 1-547. Izd-va Akademii nauk Uzbekskoi SSR, Tashkent.

    Literature

    Kew Species Profiles
    • USDA Forestry Service (2009). Index of Species Information: Urtica dioica (accessed online 29 September 2009).
    • Jellin, J.M., Gregory, P.J., et al. (2008). Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 10th Ed. Therapeutic Research Faculty, Stockton.
    • Davidson, A. (2006). The Oxford Companion to Food. 2nd Ed.Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    • Warren, P. (2006). 101 uses for stinging nettles. Wildeye, UK.
    • Milliken, W. & Bridgewater, S. (2004). Flora Celtica – People and Plants in Scotland. Birlinn, Edinburgh.
    • Prendergast, H.D.V. & Sanderson, H. (2004). Britain's Wild Harvest: the Commercial Uses of Wild Plants and Fungi. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • Williamson, E.M. (2003). Potter's Herbal Cyclopaedia. C.W. Daniel, Saffron Walden.

    • Riehemann, K. (1999). Plant extracts from stinging nettle ( Urtica dioica), an antirheumatic remedy, inhibit the proinflammatory transcription factor NF-κB. FEBS Letters. 442: 89-94.
    • Dennis, L. (ed.) (1992). The Ecology of Butterflies in Britain. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    • Grieve, M. (1984). A Modern Herbal. Edited by Mrs C. F. Leyel. Savvas Publishing, Adelaide; Jonathan Cape Limited, London.
    • Stuart, M. (ed.) (1979). Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism. Orbis, London.
    • Thurston, E.L. (1974). Morphology, fine structure and ontogeny of the stinging emergence of Urtica dioica. American Journal of Botany. 67: 809-817.
    Kew Backbone Distributions
    • Forzza, R.C., Zappi, D. & Souza, V.C. (2016-continuously updated). Flora do Brasil 2020 em construção http://reflora.jbrj.gov.br/reflora/listaBrasil/ConsultaPublicaUC/ResultadoDaConsultaNovaConsulta.do.
    • Bailey, C. & al. (2015). Guide to the Vascular Plants of Tennessee: 1-813. University of Tennessee press.
    • Dobignard, A. & Chatelain, C. (2013). Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 5: 1-451. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève.
    • Jørgensen, P.M., Nee, M.H. & Beck., S.G. (eds.) (2013). Catálogo de las plantas vasculares de Bolivia Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 127: 1-1741. Missouri Botanical Garden.
    • Dimopoulos, P., Raus, T., Bergmeier, E., Constantinidis, T., Iatrou, G., Kokkini, S., Strid, A., & Tzanoudakis, D. (2013). Vascular plants of Greece. An annotated checklist: 1-372. Botanic gardens and botanical museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin and Hellenic botanical society, Athens.
    • Lazkov, G.A. & Sultanova, B.A. (2011). Checklist of vascular plants of Kyrgyzstan Norrlinia 24: 1-166.
    • Idárraga-Piedrahita, A., Ortiz, R.D.C., Callejas Posada, R. & Merello, M. (eds.) (2011). Flora de Antioquia: Catálogo de las Plantas Vasculares 2: 1-939. Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín.
    • Kral, R., Diamond, A.R., Ginzbarg, S.L., Hansen, C.J., Haynes, R.R., Keener, B.R., Lelong, M.G., Spaulding, D.D. & Woods, M. (2011). Annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Alabama: 1-112. Botanical reseach institute of Texas.
    • Maliya, S.D. & Datt, B. (2010). A contribution to the flora of Katarniyaghat wildlife sanctuary, Baharaich district, Uttar Pradesh Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 34: 42-68.
    • Mateos, M.A. & Valdés, B. (2009). Catálogo de la flora vascular del Rif occidental calizo (N de Marruecos). I Selaginellaceae - Rosaceae Lagascalia 29: 105-257.
    • Weigend, M. & Luebert, F. (2009). Weeding the nettles I: Clarifying species limits in perennial, rhizomatous Urtica (Urticaceae) from southern and central Chile and Argentina Phytotaxa 2: 1-12.
    • Gremmen, N. & Halbertsma, R.L. Gremmen, N. & Halbertsma, R.L. (2009). Alien plants and their impact on Tristan da Cunha 2: 1-307. Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP).
    • GBIF (2008-continuously updated). Global Biodiversity Information Facility http://www.gbif.org/.
    • Krasnoborov, I.M. & Malyshev, L.I. (2003). Flora of Siberia 5: 1-305. Scientific Publishers, Inc., Enfield, Plymouth.
    • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
    • Broughton, D.A. & McAdam, J.H. (2002). The non-native vascular flora of the Falkland islands Botanical Journal of Scotland 54: 153-190.
    • Jørgensen, P.M. & León-Yánez, S. (eds.) (1999). Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Ecuador Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 75: i-viii, 1-1181. Missouri Botanical Garden.
    • Abdulina, S.A. (1999). Spisok Sosudistykn Rastenii Kazakhstana: 1-187. Academy of Sciences, Almaty, Kazakhstan.
    • Flora of North America Editorial Committee (1997). Flora of North America North of Mexico 3: 1-590. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.
    • Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1993). Flora Europaea ed. 2, 1: 1-581. Cambridge University Press.
    • Barkalov, V.Y. (ed.) (1991). Plantae Vasculares Orientalis Extremi Sovietici 5: 1-388. Nauka, Leningrad.
    • Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (eds.) (1989 publ. 1990). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 3: 1-659. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.
    • Ovczinnikov, P.N. (ed.) (1968). Flora Tadzhikskoi SSR 3: 1-710. Izd-vo Akademii nauk SSSR, Moskva.
    • Korovin, E.P. & Vvedensky, A.I. (eds.) (1953). Flora Uzbekistana 2: 1-547. Izd-va Akademii nauk Uzbekskoi SSR, Tashkent.

    Sources

    Herbarium Catalogue Specimens
    'The Herbarium Catalogue, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet http://www.kew.org/herbcat [accessed on Day Month Year]'. Please enter the date on which you consulted the system.
    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

    Kew Backbone Distributions
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2018. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2018. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0