The purple-tinged leaves distinguish the purple dead nettle. Purple dead nettle typically grows 6-10". (photo credit: Ann Hines)Henbit, an edible look-alike. (photo credit: Ann Hines)


Purple Dead Nettle
  It makes the heart merry, drives away melancholy, quickens the spirits, is good against quartan         agues, stancheth bleeding at mouth and nose, if it be stamped and applied to the nape of the neck; the herb also bruised, and with some salt and vinegar and hog's grease, laid upon an hard tumour or swelling, or that vulgarly called the king's evil, do help to dissolve or discuss them; and being in like manner applied, doth much allay the pains, and give ease to the gout, sciatica, and other pains of the joints and sinews." -- Culpepper's Complete Herbal, 1653
I look forward to the blanket of flowers that covers the yard early in spring, before mowing creates a canvas of uniform green. While many adults view this week's edible as something to eradicate from their lawns, the tiny blooms seem a touch exotic to me, like fairy-sized orchids. The 17th century physician Nicholas Culpepper called it Archangel, and attributed the aforementioned beneficial properties in his iconic book. 
With a name like deadnettle, you're probably wondering if you should really eat it! Apparently someone thought purple deadnettle looked something like stinging nettle, and the name indicates that it doesn't cause the same unpleasant sensation. Personally, I don't see the resemblance at all!
Nutritious but not tasty like other plants we've discussed in this column, purple dead nettle is worth mentioning because it's nutritious, plentiful, easy to access, and easy to identify. It has a non-toxic look alike, henbit. They look similar, both being in the mint family, but the deep purple-tinged leaves of the dead nettle set it apart. It has traditionally been used for its anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antibacterial compounds. It is often used to treat allergy symptoms. It contains nutrients such as vitamin C and other antioxidants, and it can help the immune system fight infections such as E. coli.
When you want to harvest some, stick to the top several inches and thinner stalks. (Although the larger, hollow stalks do have a fun feature: they make a nice popping sound when you pick them if you snap it just right!) If the stalks are getting too woody later in the season, stick to the leaves. In my opinion, they are rather bland. So try mincing a few leaves and using as a garnish. Toss a handful in a smoothie, or try some chopped into your next soup or salad. It lends itself well to cream-based soup or minestrone.  You can add it to other cooked greens, or make it into a tea. You can dry and powder it, making a convenient additive to smoothies and sauces for the off-season. You can also harness its nutrition for medicinal use by making a salve or tincture. The salve soothes cuts and scrapes, the tincture can be used for seasonal allergies. Hope you'll give it a try and let me know how you used it. Happy hunting!
An avid student of natural health since 1987, Ann is a Missouri native, health coach, triathlete, and collector of rocks and children. She can be reached at

Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
Willow Springs, MO 65793

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