If you’ve ever grabbed a weed to pull it up and for your efforts got a handful of nasty stinging sensations, you may have met up with nettle, urtica dioica. This experience was my first intro to this plant. That was many years ago, and since moving from the farmhouse to here in the woods, there hasn’t been any. None rode along with the menagerie of plants I carted in. It might not have survived anyway. Nettle needs really good soil.
The Fedco catalog offers nettle seeds, and last year I bought a packet. You might be wondering why anyone would plant a stinging weed. I seeded it partly to have more weed variety than the plantain and dandelion which established themselves in disturbed soil back when the house was built.
Another reason is that it is thought to be, in terms of permaculture, a nutrient accumulator. This is a plant that draws nutrients from the soil bringing them to the surface. After the plants die down in fall the leaves can be left in place to provide mulch. Or they can be hauled off to the compost pile. Either way, the nutrients recycle.
|Nettle is full of stingy little hairs|
I planted the nettle seeds at one end of the first of our two keyhole gardens, click here for the first post on the keyhole garden, and here for the following year. The nettle got off to a slow start. The garden was built on top of a generous layer of pine boughs. They had not yet broken down, and none of the numerous varieties of plants I had stuck into the garden were thriving. It is said of nettle that you can tell how good your soil is by how well it grows. I kept adding compost, manure, and dirt to the keyhole as I'd done all along.
Last fall I pulled up the patch, roots and all, and contributed it to the compost pile. Like comfrey and horseradish, root bits left in the ground become new plants. A whole new crop emerged this spring.
And this year, things have changed in the keyhole garden. For the first time I can dig into the soil without the shovel being deflected by a layer of pine boughs. There are blackened bits remaining, but for the most part they have dissolved. My small nettle patch shows signs of robust growth, as do other perennials in the keyhole.
Nettle is a herb with many uses. In a future post I’ll fill you in on some of the fabulous things that this plant is known for. Meanwhile, you might consider putting nettle seeds on your shopping list. -jmm