Wildflowers of Bradlaugh Fields #42 Stinging Nettle

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.

The plant itself, like red campion, is dioecious, which means that it has separate male and female plants, as can be seen here, and in the photo below, taken near the Bradlaugh Fields barn.

Bradlaugh Fields - Urtica dioica - nettle in flower June

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