Nettles are so closely associated in many people’s minds with wildlife that there’s now even a book called “No Nettles Required: the Truth about Wildlife Gardening” reassuring us that there are plenty of ways to be eco-friendly without needing to cover our gardens with stingers!
Nevertheless, the common nettle is a very useful plant. In spring the young tops can provide a nutritious, free and easy to grow (!) vegetable, while older plants produce tough fibres that have potential uses such as cloth- or paper-making. It may also be used beneficially in herbalism.
The UK butterflies website lists five butterflies whose larvae use nettle as their main food-plant, of which four may be seen at Bradlaugh Fields; comma, peacock, red admiral and small tortoiseshell, while the painted lady can also use it as a secondary food-plant. All these butterflies are from the same large family.
Lots of nettles growing in a place tells you that the soil there is high in nitrogen and very fertile. Nettles can absorb and use nassive quantities of nutrients, out-competing other plants and forming a dense monoculture where not much else can grow. Gardeners with long gloves can make use of this by simply gathering nettles and leaving them in a barrel of water for a few weeks. The resulting brown – and smelly – liquid makes an excellent liquid fertilizer for our domesticated fruit and veg plants which are similarly nutrient-demanding.