Purple Dead Nettle: A Weed That’s Good To Eat

Purple and edible — what more can a Wild Girl want?

Have you noticed those purple, fuzzy looking weeds with square stems that are popping up lately in the sidewalk strips and lawns around Portland? That is Lamium purpureum, a mint family plant known as purple dead nettle. You may wonder: Why eat it? For one thing, the little pink flowers taste like nectar. And the rest of the plant is reported to be high in a number of nutrients including antioxidants, those cancer-busting compounds we can all use more of! I have been into putting it in my smoothies ever since I read this piece by a Tennessee homesteader. I blend it because the fuzzy texture and bland, grassy flavor does not make for awesome eating as a whole plant. (That said, with a little creativity, anything is possible.)

You may also wonder: Why is a living plant called dead? Good question! It’s called “dead” nettle because it won’t sting you, as opposed to stinging nettle, Urtica, which infamously will. The two plants are not closely related but they do look sort of similar, whatwith the square stems and opposite leaves and so on. Urtica is that formic-acid wielding superfood that zaps you with little stingers when you get too close. Within two weeks, it’s going to be Urtica harvest time, and I’m going to attempt to make some delicious raw stinging nettle pesto. But I digress — let’s return now to purple dead nettle, whose annual 15 minutes of fame is upon us. Hurry with this one — it does not stick around and will be gone before late spring!

You can harvest dead nettle with abandon because it is an invasive weed from Europe that spreads like mad, much to the chagrin of landscapers and gardeners. Some botanists will dispute whether a given plant that appears to be purple dead nettle might actually be henbit, Lamium amplexicaule, but in terms of edibility there is no meaningful distinction, so munch away and call it whatever you like.

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43 thoughts on “Purple Dead Nettle: A Weed That’s Good To Eat

  1. How refreshing to see my beloved Purple Dead Nettle mentioned as it rarely is among herbalist. If you hold PDN beside Henbit there really is not much similarity. It is an excellent anti allergen, I conclude that she blooms before all the other wild flowers so you can enjoy without sneezing. Dry her blooms and infuse with Grapeseed oil, the color strained after 4 weeks is like no other and the uses are endless.

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  3. I tried this and for sure, the leaves are so fuzzy and hydrophobic that it’s really unpleasant to have in your mouth. The whole plant is very musty smelling, at best perhaps like a very bitter chard. I didn’t find that the flowers tasted like anything, but maybe I didn’t try them at the right time or there is a lot of variation in the flavor. It would be a beautiful garnish? Good to know that it’s at least safe to eat.

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that just because a plant has an arsenal of antioxidants and antimicrobials — most do, as it’s a matter of their protection against UV radiation, pathogens, and insect herbivory — it doesn’t mean that those chemicals are beneficial to human beings or capable of reducing anyone’s cancer risk. http://www.readersdigest.ca/food/diet-nutrition/antioxidant-myth/#P8qrBt2UVYSlLkDM.97

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  6. There is tons of this in my backyard right now, so I took your tip and made a smoothie with it. It was delicious! Sadly most of the links that came up on Google when I was trying to identify this plant were about how to get rid of it as a “weed.” Thanks for the info on how to actually use it. :)

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  8. Thank you for the info about them being healthful eating. A couple years ago I saw some here in the north east. I didn’t know what they were, but they were intriguing because they look like little pagodas.

  9. Wow, thanks again for the quick response! You are awesome!! I just moved it to shade. I used to drink nettle root tea for my allergies and I really enjoyed its “earthy” flavor. Hopefully the taste isn’t too far off. I was thinking of experimenting and mixing it with other herbs as well. I’m just excited to have this little project the warmest day of the year so far! :)
    What would you do with a bunch of dried purple nettle besides tea?

  10. I appreciate the quick response. I just washed it and its out drying on a paper bag in the sun and fresh breeze. After the water dries out I was going to hang it upside down indoors. Is the sub bad for it though? Just wondering why shade?

  11. I have a bunch in my yard. I want to dry and make it into tea. I am pregnant and my midwife tells me that purple dead nettle tea is amazing pregnancy tea. Any tips on how to harvest and dry it? And also what herb should I mix it with to make it taste good as a tea? Thanks!!!

  12. How do I forward this fabulous info to a friend? Is there a specific website for your findings? Really enjoyed learning about Deadnettle – it is rampant along a paved path where we Master Naturalists in GA are creating signs to identify trees for the public. Keep up your terrific work.
    Momma Nature – Carole Madan

  13. Which part of the plant are edible? I’m worried of in-taking toxins from eating a part that’s not good for consumption. Also if their are other ways to eat it besides a smoothie that you would recommend. Thanks

    • Hi Josie, All parts are edible, no parts toxic, with this one. You could try lots of different ways to eat it, from scrambling it with eggs to steaming and so on. But the flavor is not so good, which is why I like smoothies.

  14. I have been wondering what this plant was growing in large patches in my back yard. Guess I will try some in my smoothies. Hope it is not poisonous.

    • I tried a couple stalks with flowers in my smoothie. Never again! It may be fine for most but gave me serious cramping, diarrhea and lethargy later.

      • David,

        Are you 100% certain it was the same plant? Sorry for your awful reaction. If you can post or email a photo, I’d be interested to take a look, because I have never heard of a bad reaction to that one before. Anything’s possible…

      • Healing crisis…if the right plant, then you are way more toxic than you realise. All the more reason NOT to stop…just slow down a bit. Prepare your kidneys for the rush of toxins released….then it wont linger in the bowel and in the blood. Check out goldenrod. Tincture is best delivery..2 weeks goldenrod, then try nettle again, you will be radiant!

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  21. Thank you! I just noticed this growing everywhere . It grows real tall through the summer correct? But this is the best time to eat it?

  22. Purple deadnettle is the plant above with almost the heart looking shaped leaves. Henbit is of the same family of deadnettle with same purple flowers but the greens are circular around the stem. Both are edible and medicinal.

    • A number of websites and the local paper contend that both dead nettle and henbit are toxic. I have both in my yard and wonder if anyone has used them to dye fabric with.

  23. Love the words—cancer-busting—
    I’ve got a Ton of this stuff in my yard—-
    looking for more ”Edible ways to make this plant-super valuable”
    I’m thinking it is probably a micro-nutrient medicinal Treasure that if we knew what to do with it would be so 2012 Superfood
    I’m thinking dried and put in caps that would last all year and could be taken in small amounts-one cap/day and anti cancer ””””’preventive”””’

  24. Hi Becky,

    I love wild foods, but deadnettle isn’t one I pick. I think it got its name as much from the very unpleasant musty smell as from its resemblance to stinging nettles, but with drooping, wilted-looking leaves. Between the bad smell and lack of flavor, I stick to the very great number of really delicious wild foods. But I’m glad you’ve found a use for it.

  25. Hello Rebecca,
    Excellent blog me dear, we used to add stinging nettle to the stew we made for the greyhounds we raced many years ago. At the time we also used it for nettle tea, i’d forgotten till now all about it.

  26. I ate a few tops of purple dead nettle last Spring and got a mild stomach ache. People respond differently to plants and, as always, it’s best to try a small amount of any plant you’re unfamiliar with before you gorge yourself on it.

    Maybe I’ll try it again.

    Oh, and the stinging nettles are starting to pop up around here already.

      • Hey Rebecca, Thanks for replying and sorry I kind of forgot about this thread. Yeah that is the right species, there are several varieties I’ve seen in gardens, it seems like they all maybe have pink flowers. It spreads really fast and I have a bit of it really close. I’d imagine it would have similar use but I really don’t know.

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