’tis the season for deadnettles!
If you have any semi-neglected patches of ground in your life, you may have seen them — short plants with heart-shaped leaves, arranged like low towers accented by tiny flowers. Though they’re not native to this area, they’re pretty abundant. If you’re into controlling invasive plants, you’ll probably be happy to know that they’re also delicious edibles!
Don’t let the name fool you. Dead nettles aren’t poisonous, and they’re not nettles. They’re called “dead nettle” because they look an awful lot like stinging nettle, but their leaves are stingless. In reality, they’re part of the mint family (which probably explains their prolific growth and ability to thrive pretty much anywhere).
One of the best things about these nutritious plants? They’re easy to identify and don’t have any poisonous lookalikes. They’re also useful in all kinds of other ways.
Dead Nettle Folklore
Medically, purple dead nettle is used for allergies. It’s rich in quercetin, and has anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful for people with spring hay fever.
Some areas call it purple archangel, because it appears there around the Feast of the Apparition (May 8th). This was when the archangel Michael was said to have appeared on Mount Gargano, Italy, in the sixth century.
White dead nettle is sometimes called bee nettle. This is because it provides an early source of pollen and nectar, so it’s very popular with bees (and children! Kids sometimes suck the nectar from white dead nettle flowers, kind of like how kids used to suck the honeysuckle flowers that grew on the elementary school’s fence when I was little).
In Lancashire, it was said that white dead nettle flowers always come in twos, because they’re actually pixie shoes that have been left outside. These flowers also have two black spots inside, which are sometimes called “Cinderella’s slippers.”
White, spotted, and purple dead nettles are all used to treat stings from actual nettles. Mash the plant, squeeze out the juice, and apply it to the stung area. You can also chew some of the leaves and apply the resulting paste.
Magical Properties of Dead Nettle
Dead nettle is associated with determination, due to its ability to grow pretty much anywhere. (I’ve been harvesting it from cracks in the concrete, here.) It’s also connected to happiness, optimism, and relief.
Like other members of the mint family, it dries well. Harvest some, hang it upside-down, and put a paper bag around it to keep off dust and catch any dropped leaves or flowers. Once you have some dried dead nettle, you can use it in teas, incense blends, sachets, poppets, jar spells, or pretty much anything else. This small, unassuming herb is fantastic any time you need a hit of joy and motivation.
Dead nettle is also useful in kitchen witchery. Add it to soups, salads, or even pesto to benefit from its magical and anti-inflammatory properties.
This plant also works wonderfully in tinctures, salves, and oils. This is a great way to preserve it well beyond its season.
For now, I’m pulling it out of my raised beds to prepare them for other things. Some will be left for the birds (chickens, especially, seem to love the stuff), and the rest will be brewed into tea, blended into smoothies, eaten fresh, dried, and pureed and frozen in ice cube trays to add to soup or fill out pesto!