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GENUS: Urtica

Urtica dioica L. - Stinging nettle

FAMILY: Urticaceae—the Nettle Family

In the Commonwealth this family is represented by five genera, including Urtica and Laportea. Members produce inconspicuous flowers that lack petals. The calyx is (3-)5-lobed; stamens: as many as and opposite to the lobes; ovary: 1, superior; style: 1; flowers: usually unisexual or rarely perfect.

PHENOLOGY: Stinging nettles flower June through September.

DISTRIBUTION: Moist waste places, roadsides, and rich woods are home to the nettles.

SYMPTOMS: Contact dermatitis results in an intense burning, itching, or stinging of the skin.

POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: Although a combination of histamine, acetylcholine, and 5hydroxytryptamine has been considered the toxic agent, this recently has been challenged.

CONFUSED TAXA: Several varieties of stinging nettle occur here. The well-established European weed, U. dioica var. dioica, has densely hairy stems and deeply toothed leaves, in contrast to U. dioica var. procera. Another species in the genus, U. urens L., is a stinging weed from Europe becoming established in our range. The genus Laportea (wood-nettle) is represented by L. canadensis (L.) Wedd., a commonly encountered stinging plant with alternate leaf arrangement.

SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: It is most troublesome to humans.

TREATMENT: (23); (26); in extreme cases (4)

OF INTEREST: Urtica dioica contains substances with known diuretic properties when consumed. Herb extracts contain volatile oils that are used in cosmetic, botanical hair rinses. Roots and seeds have been an ingredient in hair growth remedies and restorative treatments for hair. Home remedies for relieving the pain caused by stinging nettle include the application of juice from dock (Rumex), which often grows in the same habitat, and from onion, leek, or plantain. In spring, short, tender, young plants can be gathered for eating. The plant is reputedly high in protein and has a delicate flavor. Boiling water is said to quell the stinging hairs.

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