Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of our most nutritious wild food plants. Originally from Europe, stinging nettle has naturalized throughout most of the United States. The stinging hairs that cover its leaves and stems impart a painful sting and rash that can last hours or days. Stinging nettle grows 2 to 4 feet tall and has opposite, toothed leaves that can be several inches long. There are several kinds of nettle including wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), which is native to the U.S. and has fewer stinging hairs. All nettles are edible.
Stinging nettle resembles clearweed (Pilea pumila), a non-toxic but unpalatable plant, but clearweed has no stinging hairs.
Nettle can be used fresh, dried or steamed and frozen. Dried nettle makes great tea. If eating fresh or storing to eat later, make sure not to over-cook. Lightly steaming is the best way to prepare for eating.
Stinging nettle likes nitrogen, moisture and sun. It thrives along streams and rivers and on old farms. In the U.S. it's considered invasive. Make sure to wear gloves and long sleeves to harvest to avoid being stung. Cooking neutralizes the stinging effect.