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6-Minute Read

Outside in the garden, or maybe walking through the weeds? Suddenly in excruciating pain? Think you’ve been stung by a wasp? Think again! You may have been meddling with a nettle 😦

I love my garden. I love being out in nature. But you know, some days it just seems like everything in Michigan is out to get me. Sometimes it’s raspberry thorns I knowingly brave, other times it’s things like the mosquito hordes, yellow jackets, and poison ivy that I absolutely would have avoided if I could. Now I have one more thing to try and avoid - stinging nettles.

What are these stinging nettles you may ask? Well. Let me tell you… Besides just being the most awful plant, the Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica, is an herbaceous (aka does not make a woody stem), “flowering” (not really what I would consider flowers), perennial plant. Great…. Perennial. So it comes back every year if I don’t get the roots out :( The plant originally came from Europe, but, like so many things, it is now found in most places. Including Michigan. The plant has actually developed spines that are built like tiny hypodermic needles! The better to inject their stinging chemicals with…

Stinging Nettle in my garden

The plant mostly looks like a harmless mint type thing - unless you look closely. And I did NOT look closely. Yesterday I was in the garden picking some of the ripe veggies and periodically pulling a weed or two at the same time. As you do. Gardening folk know it’s a never-ending battle with the weeds, but for you non-gardeners out there - if you don’t pull weeds every chance you get, even if it’s just a couple, they quickly overtake the garden. Always have to be pulling weeds. Anyway… I was picking, and occasionally pulling, and next thing I know my finger is stinging like crazy! It really did feel like a wasp had stung me (and I do have experience getting stung by wasps)! So I quickly looked around for a culprit. I figured I could at least maybe get a picture of the little bugger and do a story about it for the blog… But what do I find? Nothing. Just a bunch of mint plants… Oh wait. Nope. One of the plants in my garden was just pretending to be mint. It is definitely NOT a mint. Upon closer inspection, the nasty thing that stung me was the infamous, the nasty, the Stinging Nettle. A plant of all things!

Stinging Nettle spines closeup

Now Stinging Nettles do have all sorts of good qualities… Such as providing food for a number of pretty butterflies and moths, being edible by humans (only if cooked!), and being used in traditional medicine for centuries. However. After getting stung by this thing, I want them way far, far away from anywhere I have bare hands or bare feet. I have actually been stung by these plants once before. But it was many, many, years ago when I was only seven… I do remember it being awful, stings all over my legs after running through my great aunt’s fields… But, I thought. I was as a kid. It must have been an exaggeration. Everything is more intense and scarier as a kid right? Nope. These are pretty darn nasty. It definitely feels like a wasp sting. Ten hours later, and I still had welts on my finger! Thank goodness it’s just my finger!! Finally, 24 hours later, the stinging and welts were gone and were replaced by just a mild itchiness. * sigh *

Way too close image of nettle welts on my finger...

So. I highly recommend not meddling with nettles… Or at the very least, make sure you never have any exposed skin near them!

Stinging Nettle leaf

To read more about Stinging Nettles, check out:

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Arnold   Sept 04, 2021, 10:32 PM

Hi, there!
In the article about nettles, you say, "The better to inject their stinging chemicals..." So, they not only prick skin, but jab with juice, ergo, stinging chemicals?! Are these chemicals solely used as a defense? Are they unique to nettles or do, say, wasps and other bees inject the same chemicals? Lastly, the chemicals... they are known irritants?


Bug News   Sept 05, 2021, 3:17 PM

Hi Arnold,
Yes, according to the sources I read, stinging nettles use the chemicals acetylcholine, histamine, and serotonin to produce the stinging sensation. Their spines, or trichomes are perfectly formed (like needles) to transfer the chemicals to whatever brushes up against them. Wasps and bees do actually use many of the same chemicals including "hyaluronidase, acid phosphatase and lysophospholipase, histamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin". So I guess it makes sense that the stinging nettle feels like a wasp sting! I believe all these chemicals, from plants and insects, are known skin irritants...

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