Urtica Dioica – Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica, often called common nettle, stinging nettle (although not all plants of this species sting) or nettle leaf, is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the family Urticaceaes. It is native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and western North America, and introduced elsewhere. The species is divided into six subspecies, five of which have many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals. The plant has a long history of use as a source of medicine, food, and fibre. Urtica dioica is a dioecius, herbaceous, perennial plant, 1 to 2 m tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow, as are the roots. The soft, green leaves are 3 to 15 cm long and are borne oppositely on an erect, wiry, green stem. The leaves have a strongly serrated margin, a cordate base, and an acuminate tip with a terminal leaf tooth longer than adjacent laterals. It bears small, greenish or brownish, numerous flowers in dense axillary inflorescences. The leaves and stems are very hairy with non-stinging hairs, and in most subspecies, also bear many stinging hairs (trichomes), whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that can inject several chemicals: histamine, serotonin , acetycholine , moroidin , leukotrenes and possibly formic acid. This mixture of chemical compounds causes a painful sting or paresthesia from which the species derives one of its common names, stinging nettle, as well as the colloquial names burn nettle, burn weed, and burn hazel.

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