In the Donau-Auen National Park, Common Nettle – also called Stinging Nettle – can grow in nearly impenetrable corridors taller than the average-sized person and makes up a large portion of the underbrush in the park. Together with swarms of mosquitoes, the Common Nettle encourages visitors to stay on the walking paths and thus ensures that large portions of the National Park remain pristine.
Common Nettle can grow anywhere from 30-150cm in height; where optimal conditions prevail, such as in the Danube wetlands, it can even reach heights of up to 250cm. The plant has creeping rhizomes and an erect, four-cornered stem. Leaves are opposite, oval-shaped with pointed tips and have deeply serrated edges; they also have lancet-shaped stipules. The flowerheads have inconspicuous greenish flowers, are axillary and arranged in panicle form. The species is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are found on different plants. It is in flower from June to October. The stems and leaves are equipped with long stiff hairs which break to release a fluid irritating to the skin.
The species is native to moderate climes from south to north. In Austria, the Common Nettle may be found in all provinces and up to montane levels. The plant prefers nitrogen-rich, moist soils on waste ground, in gardens, wetlands forests, and on the edge of farmland. The species has profited greatly from the accumulation of nutrients in the soil due to agricultural activity and human settlement.
Endangerment and Conservation Status
The Common Nettle is not vulnerable.
The plant forms tall – often higher than a man – colonies in riparian forests where sedimentary deposits from flooding ensure nutrient-rich soil. At times, individual nettles join up with another plant, the Calystegia sepium (Hedge Bindweed), to form nearly impenetrable thickets. The Common Nettle's stinging hairs consist of a hardened base and a hair-thin hollow tube upon which a capitulum, or small head, sits. At the slightest touch, this head breaks off and the syringe-like tube is driven into the skin. The injected fluid contains histamine and causes the intense irritation of the skin so dreaded by nature-lovers! The truly stinging nettles found on the stems and leaves at slanting angles may be differentiated by way of their size from the smaller, normal hairs. It is possible to avoid being stung by the Common Nettle by running the finger carefully from the base to the top, staying in line with the direction of the hairs. The unspectacular green flowers of the Common Nettle are pollinated by wind. The plant is extremely important for a variety of insects, in particular for butterfly species such as the Inachis io, or Peacock butterfly, whose caterpillars rely on the Common Nettle for food.
The Common Nettle is a very useful plant which can be utilized in a huge variety of ways. The young shoots can be used to prepare nettle spinach. Nettle or urtica tea is highly recommended for alleviating bladder and kidney ailments as well as anaemia and eczema. Freshly-squeezed juice from young plants is found to be especially effective. Nettle roots cooked in wine are said to be effective in encouraging hair growth. In organic gardening, the Common Nettle can be used in water as a natural pesticide or, if plants live longer, as liquid fertilizer in liquid manure. However, no female plants should be used, since the seeds of the Common Nettle may end up in the cultivated plants. A relative of hemp, the Common Nettle has played an important role as a fibre plant in the past.