Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettles)

Caterpillars, Cows, Carrots and...Nettles?


Female Aglais urticae (small tortoiseshell butterflies) often lay their eggs on the undersides of stinging nettle leaves. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the the leaves of the plant. Often many of these organisms will hatch at once and devour entire leaves. This is a predatory interaction in which the stinging nettle plant is the prey. 


Urtica dioica plants are sometimes used to feed farm animals such as Bos taurus (domestic cow) and Equus caballus (domestic horse). Although the animals will not eat the plants when they are living, after the nettles are cut and dried they are a great fodder. Despite the fibrous stem of the plants, this food source is also easily digested by pigs, rabbits and poultry. The nettle's nutritional value rivals that of clover, a popular food for livestock. Medicago sativa (alfalfa) is also used to feed farm animals.

 Garden Pests

Stinging nettles can be planted alongside of gardens to help control pests such as Chamaepsila rosae (carrot fly), aphids and black flies. These insects often prefer eating Urtica dioica instead of carrots and other garden produce allowing the produce to thrive. Thus, planting nettles can allow for alternative, organic gardening methods that eliminate the need to use pesticides.


Urtica dioica stems are very fibrous and have been used by humans for hundreds of years to make rope and cloth. This practice of weaving nettles into fabric was even displayed in Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale The Princess and the Swan where the princess used nettles to weave several coats by midnight.

The green pigments of the Urtica dioica, which reside within the photosynthetic chloroplasts of the plant, have also been used as a traditional dye.

 Stinging nettles have many medicinal uses and can be eaten as a nutritious wild green.

If you think these uses of stinging nettles are cool, how would you like to serve them for dinner?