False Nettle: A Non-Stinging Herb with Many Benefits
False nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica) is a perennial herb that belongs to the same family as stinging nettle (Urticaceae), but does not have the irritating hairs that can cause skin rashes and blisters. It is also known as bog hemp or smallspike false nettle, and it is native to Canada and North America. It grows in moist or shady habitats, such as deciduous woods, swamps, bogs, marshes, wet meadows and ditches.
False nettle has opposite leaves that are ovate in shape and 6â8 cm long and 3â4 cm wide. The leaves are smooth and green on both sides, with serrated margins and prominent veins. The flowers are tiny and greenish-white, arranged in small clusters along cylindrical spikes that emerge from the leaf axils. The flowers are wind-pollinated and appear from summer to fall. The plant is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. The seeds are small and oval, covered with hook-like hairs that help them disperse by animals or water.
False nettle has many benefits for wildlife and humans. It is a larval host plant for several butterflies, such as the eastern comma, the question mark, and the red admiral. These butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of false nettle, and the caterpillars feed on them until they pupate. The adult butterflies feed on rotting fruit, tree sap, dung, carrion, and sometimes nectar from flowers. False nettle also supports other insects, such as the fly larva that forms spindle-shaped galls on the leaves. Mammals, such as deer and rabbits, browse on the foliage of false nettle as well.
False nettle also has some medicinal and edible uses for humans. The leaves and stems can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable or added to soups and stews. They have a mild flavor and are rich in vitamins and minerals. The plant can also be used to make tea or infusion that can help with urinary tract infections, kidney stones, arthritis, rheumatism, gout, skin problems, allergies, asthma, bronchitis, coughs, colds, fever, diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhoids, and menstrual disorders. The plant has anti-inflammatory, diuretic, astringent, antiseptic, antihistamine, expectorant, and hemostatic properties.
False nettle is a useful plant that can be easily grown in moist or shady areas of the garden. It can be propagated by seeds or by division of the roots. It prefers rich loamy soil with good drainage and organic matter. It can tolerate some sun exposure but prefers partial shade. It does not have any serious pests or diseases and requires low maintenance. It can be harvested throughout the year for food or medicine purposes. False nettle is a non-stinging herb that deserves more attention for its many benefits.
False nettle is not only a food and medicine plant, but also a fiber plant. The stems of false nettle can be harvested and processed to obtain a strong and durable fiber that can be used for making cordage, nets, ropes, mats, baskets, and other items. The fiber is similar to hemp or flax, but finer and softer. The fiber can also be spun and woven into cloth or paper. The fiber extraction process involves retting, breaking, scutching, and hackling the stems. Retting is the process of soaking the stems in water or exposing them to moisture and bacteria to separate the fiber from the woody core. Breaking is the process of crushing the stems to loosen the fiber bundles. Scutching is the process of scraping the fiber bundles to remove the remaining woody material. Hackling is the process of combing the fiber bundles to align and refine them.
False nettle is a versatile plant that can be used for various purposes. It can provide food, medicine, fiber, wildlife habitat, and ornamental value. It can also help prevent soil erosion and improve water quality by stabilizing the banks of streams and rivers. False nettle is a sustainable and renewable resource that can be cultivated or harvested from the wild. It is a plant that deserves more recognition and appreciation for its many uses and benefits.