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Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
Scientific classification

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Nettle (Urtica) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Urticaceae, mostly perennial herbs but some are annual and a few are shrubby. The most prominent member of the genus is the Stinging nettle Urtica dioica, native to Europe, Asia, and North America. The genus also contains a number of other species with similar properties, listed below. However, a large number of species names that will be encountered in this genus in the older literature (about 100 species have been described) are now recognised as synonyms of Urtica dioica. Some of these taxa are still recognised as subspecies.

All the species listed below share the property of having stinging hairs, and can be expected to have very similar medicinal uses to the stinging nettle. The sting of Urtica ferox, the Onga Onga or Tree nettle of New Zealand, have been known to kill horses, dogs and at least one human.

Species in the genus Urtica, and their primary natural ranges, include:

The family Urticaceae also contains some other plants called nettles that are not members of the genus Urtica. These include the Wood nettle Laportea canadensis, found in eastern North America from Nova Scotia to Florida, and the False nettle Boehmeria cylindrica, found in most of the United States east of the Rockies. As its name implies, the false nettle does not sting.

There are many unrelated organisms called nettle, such as:

Nettles are the exclusive larval food plant for several species of butterfly and are also eaten by the larvae of some moths including Buff Ermine, The Flame, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing and Setaceous Hebrew Character. The roots are sometimes eaten by the larva of the Ghost Moth Hepialus humuli.


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A fresh, young clump of nettles.

Nettle stems are a popular raw material used in small-scale papermaking.

The tops of growing nettles are a popular cooked green in many areas, and are exceptionally high in protein. Some cooks throw away a first water to get rid of the formic acid, while others retain the water and cook the nettles straight. Nettle tops are sold in some farmers' markets and natural food stores. Nettle is believed to be a galactagogue.

Urtication, or flogging with nettles, is the process of deliberately applying stinging nettles to the skin in order to provoke inflammation. An agent thus used is known as a rubefacient (i.e. something that causes redness). This is done as a folk remedy for rheumatism, as it provides temporary relief from pain.

Extracts are used to treat arthritis, kidney stones, and asthma, among other things; it is also believed to be diuretic and uses treating hay fever are being investigated.

The traditional remedy for nettle stings is rubbing with the leaf of the dock plant, Rumex obtusifolus, which often grows beside nettles in the wild.

The Bottle Inn (, a pub in Marshwood, Dorset, England, holds an annual World Stinging Nettle Eating Championship. At the ninth Championship, held 2005-06-19, Ed Brooks of Wootton Fitzpaine ate a 48-foot length to take 1st prize.

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