Why Nettles Are Great For Your Garden

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Picking nettles

Nettles are notorious for their sting and as a creeping weed, good for nothing but ripping out and thwacking back. Right? Not so fast – nettles have lots going for them too! Did you know that nettles are a convenient source of nutrients for your crops, are brilliant at attracting beneficial bugs, and are an edible treat if harvested correctly?

Powerhouse Plant Food

Put the nutrients found within nettles to good use by making your own natural, organic liquid plant feed. They’re full of growth-boosting goodness, including nitrogen, calcium and magnesium.

You can use older, tough growth for this – though tender young growth is fine too. Just cut some nettles and stuff them down into a watertight container, ideally with a lid as it can pong a bit. Weigh them down then fill the container with water and leave it to steep for about a month.

Steep nettles in water to make a powerful fertiliser for your crops

To use it, just add one part of your nettle tea to ten parts water. Because it’s rich in nitrogen, this is particularly useful for leafy vegetables like kale, chard and spinach.

You can also cut nettles to lay, as they are, around larger plants or shrubby fruits, where they will serve as a valuable mulch.

Their high nitrogen content also makes them a natural compost activator. In other words, by adding them to your compost heap you’ll speed up the decomposition process. Mix them in with a wide range of other compostable ingredients, including drier ingredients with a higher carbon content such as plain cardboard, dried leaves or woodier prunings. Just make sure not to include any of the roots or seed heads, or they’ll start growing in your compost.

Nettles are great for pest predators like ladybugs

Nettles for Wildlife

Nettles are the food plant of choice for the caterpillars of all sorts of beautiful butterfly species. By leaving a few nettles be, you’ll be setting up ideal conditions for a kaleidoscope of color later on in the season.

Many other insects love nettles too, including ladybirds and their prime food source, aphids. Think of nettles as a sacrificial crop. In much the same way you can plant nasturtiums to lure caterpillars away from your cabbages, nettles can be left to take the hit when it comes to aphids.

Far from simply adding to the aphid problem in your garden, these nettles will in fact lead to their ultimate demise, because those trusty ladybirds and their larvae will be there to snaffle them up. And ladybirds don’t just enjoy aphids for their meal – they’ll also make short work of whitefly, spider mites and other pests too!

Nettles are endlessly useful in the garden and in the kitchen too

Nutritious Nettles

Nettles are a great ingredient to cook with. To pick them you’ll of course need to put on some gloves. I’ve heard you can pick them with your bare hands by grabbing at them from the top and nipping them off by pinching downwards in the direction of the stinging hairs, but I’m not brave enough for that! Pick just the young tips of the nettles, which will be more tender and less stringy.

Think of nettles as a substitute to spinach. Like spinach they’re chock-full of iron and make a fantastic spring green – just steam them for about five minutes.

Or make a tasty nettle soup. Simply boil one pound (450g) of potatoes until soft, and steam half a pound (225g) of nettles till tender. Combine them with two pints (one liter) of vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, season to taste, add a splash of cream then blitz with a stick blender. Yum!

Nettle soup is nutritious and delicious - and no, it won't sting you!

It makes a jolly good tea too – just steep a few leaves in boiling water. Apparently, it’s a powerful push against all sorts of ailments, including hay fever, sore muscles and asthma. I just find it a rather refreshing and calming alternative to the usual caffeinated teas.

And, do you know what, nettles even make a very palatable beer too. Suddenly they’re not looking too bad after all, are they!

Have you got nettles in your garden – go on be honest! – and how will you be putting them to use? Share your thoughts below.

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Show Comments


"A Joy! Someone has poisoned my nettle patch Think it likely it was this person who claimed they were an eyesore. Dead, brown n sad🙃🙃🙃now they definitely are an eyesore! I was creating a butterfly hotel and have grown them for 4 years. "
Liliane on Monday 7 June 2021
"Love yr enthusiasm Loved yr video And doggy and all your wonderful tips re nettles 🎶😀🎶✅✅✅"
Liliane on Monday 7 June 2021
"Hi Liliane. So sorry to hear your nettle patch has been destroyed. It's quite a resilient plant, so if the roots are okay it should spring back. It may be worth reaching out to neighbours to explain why the nettles are there - most people would be happy to tolerate a few nettles if they realise how much wildlife it supports."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 7 June 2021
"loved your video on nettles i was lucky enough to get a free plant from a local nursery near me and the owner was very taken aback as to why i wanted a weed :) i use a lot of nettle tea and also add it to my natural shampoo i make as i was spending a ton on buying tea from the health food store so it made sense for me to search for such a prized weed which i just love :D "
Jenni on Tuesday 8 June 2021
"Hi Jenni. I bet the nursery owner was surprised! So pleased you've managed to cultivate a patch of it, and clearly you're putting it to very good use. :-)"
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 9 June 2021
"I have made the nettle fertiliser but have maggots living and eating the rotting vegetation in the water - what maggots are able to live in water. I really enjoyed your video and will be a follower from now. Thanks"
Sue on Thursday 10 June 2021
"Hi Sue. I'm not entirely sure I have to be honest. You do get those little flitting bugs in water butt water, so I wonder if it's those - not sure of their name though, sorry!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 10 June 2021
"Hi Ben, Was interested to read your article on Nettle Tea. You mention smell and up to 4 weeks to cultivate. I successfully made nettle tea using fresh (very) nettles and demerara sugar. I takes approximately 7 days and produces concentrated nettle tea which is diluted 1 ml to 50 ltrs. Better still there is only a sweet aroma during and after production. Would you like to receive the complete receipe?"
Aaron Brunger on Thursday 17 June 2021
"Hi Aaron. This sounds remarkable. Yes please to sharing the complete recipe!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 17 June 2021
"HOME MADE (non smelling) NETTLE TEA RECIPE Firstly I must say that this receipe is not mine but has been widely shared on YouTube and, I am reproducing it here for Grow Veg Subscribers. This recipe is for a single batch of nettle tea but can be done on any scale simply by doubling the contents each time. Requirements: Mixing Bowl : Fabric (muslin or similar) : Address labels : 500ml and 1ltr glass jars (or similar) : Brown Sugar (demerara or similar) : Rubber band : Weighing Scales : Scissors : Funnel : Pen : to collect the nettles, a bucket and some gloves and finally a sterilised rock that will fit through the neck of the 1 ltr bottle.. Preparation: Sterilise the rock by boiling it in water for around 10 minutes. The fresher the nettles the stronger the tea will be. It is recommended that the nettles should be harvested by cutting the stems whilst the morning dew is still on the leaves (7 to 7.30 am or as early as you are able to collect them. (DO NOT PUT THE NETTLES IN WATER and do not harvest any nettle seeds or flowers). Keep them in the bucket or container until processing. Place 125 gms of nettles (including stalks but not the root system) into the mixing bowl. Add approx 85 grams of sugar and mix well (tearing the nettles apart if you wish). Place the mixed materials into the 1 ltr jar and sprinkle a light layer of sugar over the top of the leaves. Put the sterilised stone on top of the nettles and cover the neck of the jar with muslin (or similar) and secure with the rubber band. Keep at room temperature 20°c or 70°f in a dry area out of sunlight (the kitchen is ideal as the tea does not smell). Very quickly (even after a few hours) you will see a dark brown sticky liquid starting to accumulate at the bottom of the jar. After around 7 days, the fermentation process will subside and the tea is now ready to decant. Place the funnel in the 500 ml bottle and cover with a piece of muslin. Remove the rock from the nettles and turn the jar upside down into the funnel. Stand safely and leave the stickly liquid to drip/run into the jar overight or until no more liquid drips from the larger jar. The 1 ltr jar contents can be put on the compost heap. Place an air tight lid on the 500 ml jar and secure it tightly. Write the details: Type of Tea, (Date started, date fermentation finished and date bottled - which should be the same). Your concentrated nettle tea should now be stored out of direct sunlight and preferably in a cool dry atmosphere. The tea has a very long shelf life. Mix at the ratio of 500 to 1 (2ml of tea to 1 ltr of water). Use as a foliar spray as early in the morning and whilst the dew is on the leaves if possible. Nettle tea has a broad spectrum of minerals etc needed to encourage healthy growth of all vegetables and fruits. I have personally made 2 batches of this tea and can confirm all that I have listed above. It is suggested that this nettle tea should be sprayed weekly onto all your plants for the best results."
Aaron Brunger on Friday 18 June 2021
"Re original post : My brain must have been out of sync. I should have written 1ml to 500 mls not 1ml to 50 ltrs - blame it on my French keyboard or that I wrote it at 4am - yes 4am."
Aaron Brunger on Friday 18 June 2021
"This is superb Aaron! Thank you so much for going to all the effort and time to share this recipe. I shall have to try it out. You do like an early/late start to the day, clearly!"
Ben Vanheems on Friday 18 June 2021

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