Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis
Urtica dioica L. ssp. gracilis (Aiton) Seland.
Urtica californica Greene
Urtica cardiophylla Rydb.
Urtica dioica L. var. angustifolia Schltdl.
Urtica dioica L. var. californica (Greene) C.L. Hitchc.
Urtica dioica L. var. gracilis (Aiton) C.L. Hitchc.
Urtica dioica L. var. lyallii (S. Watson) C.L. Hitchc.
Urtica dioica L. var. procera (Muhl. ex Willd.) Weddell
Urtica gracilis Aiton
Urtica lyallii S. Watson
Urtica lyallii S. Watson var. californica (Greene) Jeps.
Urtica major H.P. Fuchs
Urtica procera Muhl. ex Willd.
Urtica serra auct. non Blume
Urtica strigosissima Rydb.
Urtica viridis Rydb.
Stinging Nettle, Common Nettle
Stinging nettle, so named for spiky hairs that are pretty much tiny hypodermic needles filled with something of a witch’s brew of irritating chemicals. These include histamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, formic acid (the same irritant in some bee stings), and leukotriens. These plants are North American natives. (A close relative, Urtica dioica ssp. dioica, is native to Europe and Asia, though long established in North America.) Both are found in temperate regions worldwide. They prefer river deltas, floodplains, margins of deciduous woodlands, fencerows, and waste places.
Plants: 24-39" (60-100 cm) high, rarely up to twice that. The entire plant is covered in stinging hairs.
Flowers: Plants are monoecious—male staminate flowers appear on the same plants as female pistillate flowers. Male flowers are grayish yellow, with four tepals. Female flowers have four tepals too, but in different-sized pairs. They are gray-green and hairy. The flower clusters resemble catkins.
Fruits: Each inner pair of tepals encloses a single deltoid to ovoid seed.
Edibility: Dried or cooked, the young leaves are safely edible, and taste like spinach. Don’t even think about eating them raw!
Medical: Historically stinging nettle has been used to treat muscle and joint pain, eczema, arthritis, gout, anemia, and many other ailments. More recent studies have found that plant extracts aid in treatment of urinary tract infections, kidney and bladder stones, and rheumatism. Root extracts have been used to treat prostate complaints and irritable bladder. Stinging nettle extracts should not be used during pregnancy.
See this article by Steve Brill on distinguishing
among nettles and related plants.
Here are some similar species:
|Plant||24-48" (60-121 cm) high. Stems have stiff white hairs that sting if you rub against them.||4-63" (10-160 cm) high, and favor shady wooded areas. Stems are smooth, without the irritating hairs of stinging nettle.||6-24" (15-60 cm) tall, with a stem that is hairless or covered with fine white hairs. Bracts beneath flowers, stems, and leaf undersides turn copper-colored.|
|Flowers||Male flower clusters are white or greenish white, in loose branching clusters. Each flower is less than ⅛" (3.2 mm) across, with 5 petals. They appear from July to September.||Flowers occur on straight spikes that emerge from the stem, in clusters of small, inconspicuous green flowers. Each spike is often tipped by a couple of small leaves. Flowers appear from July to August.||Flowers are greenish-tan, and tiny—less than ⅛" (3.2 mm) across. They flower from July to October.|
|Leaves||Alternate, up to 4" (10 cm) × 6" (15 cm), egg-shaped, with coarse serrations.||Usually opposite or nearly so. They are roughly egg-shaped, with sharp tips and teeth. (More precisely, they are elliptic, lanceolate to broadly ovate.) The leaves are 1¾-7" (5-18 cm) × ¾-4" (2-10 cm).||Leaves are alternate, lance-like or oval with sharp tips, 3½" (8.9 cm) × 1" (2.5 cm), with blunt serrations.|
|Fruit||Oblique dry seeds.||Spiky little balls.||A 3-lobed roughly spherical fruit containing 3 seeds.|
|Habitats||Moist woods, streambanks, in rich soils||Moist, deciduous woods; wet meadows; swamps, bogs, and mashes||Open woods, moist soils, gravel bars, waste ground, roadsides, railroads.|
Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis on gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org
Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis on www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org
Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis on www.ediblewildfood.com
Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis on www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net
Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis on eFloras
Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis from the Jepson Manual
Multiple Authors, PDR for Herbal Medicines, Thomson Healthcare Inc., 2007, p. 792
Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 16 Aug 2019.