|THE METROPOLITAN NATURALIST
|The Wood Nettle is a common plant of damp woods. The most notable characteristic is the
stinging hairs, which inject a substance that causes a sting and sometimes a rash that
usually lasts only a few minutes. It often grows beside hiking trails where unlucky hikers brush
against the stinging hairs. The Wood Nettle is indigenous to North America.
Nettles of the genus Urtica are similar plants with stinging hairs but are less common in the
Baltimore-Washington area. These include the Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) and the Dwarf
Nettle (Urtica urens). Urtica dioica has a native variety (see the drawing at the bottom of this
page) as well as a variety that was introduced from Europe. These are distinguished from the
Wood Nettle by opposite leaves (the Wood Nettle's leaves are arranged alternately on the
|WOOD NETTLE (Laportea canadensis)
|The Wood Nettle has a fibrous stem, like its relative, the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). These fibers were once
used by Native Americans for weaving baskets and making twine. The roots may have been used by some Native
Americans medicinally as a diuretic for urinary problems.
The young Wood Nettle plant is edible. It can be eaten after cooking because heat gets rid of the Wood Nettle's
sting, but you might want to wear gloves to collect the plant.
|The Wood Nettle's close relative, the Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) (see drawing at the bottom of the page) has
a long history of medicinal use in Europe and has been extensively studied in clinical trials and analyzed
chemically. Some of these medicinal properties might also apply to the Wood Nettle, but as far as I can tell this
has not been investigated. The Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is used to treat rheumatism, asthma, coughs,
benign prostatic hyperplasia, and hyperglycemia.
|The female, or pistillate, flowers are above the leaves, extending from the leaf axils at the top of the plant (see
photo below). The male, or staminate, flowers extend from the lower leaf axils.
|The stinging hairs (photo below) have a bladder-like base. The contents of this bladder-like base are injected
when the hair is touched. Analysis of substance injected by the Wood Nettle has not, as far as I can tell, been
published. Acetylcholine, histamine, formic acid and 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) have been isolated from the
similar stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and Dwarf Nettle (Urtica urens).