The nettle that doesn’t sting
Dead Nettle (Lamium album) syn. Archangel; Dumb nettle. A perennial member of the Labiatae family growing up to 2m in wasteland in Europe and Western Asia. It has a non-stinging nettle with a long rhizome bearing erect, square, hollow stems, with opposite pairs of bright green leaves and clusters of white tubular flowers. There is an overall smell of weasels which is lost in the drying process.
This plant owes its name of nettle to the fact that in the early stages it bears a strong resemblance to the Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), but the flowers are quite different and they are unrelated. The ‘Dead’ in the name refers to its inability to sting. The name ‘Lamium’ is derived from the Greek word for throat, a reference to the form of the flower.
The medieval herbalists were very fond of Dead Nettle and considered it an exhilarating tonic. Culpeper writes: “it makes the heart merry and drives away melancholy, quickens the spirits, is good against the quartan agues [intermittent fevers], staunching bleeding at the mouth and nose if it be stamped and applied to the nape.” Gerard claims: “…it may be used with great success in removing the hardness from the spleen which be the seat of melancholy.” Parkinson suggests that the plant be bruised and mixed with salt, vinegar and lard and be applied to relieve the agony of gout.
Dead Nettle contains mucilage, tannins, saponin, flavanoid glycosides, tyramine, methylamine, and potassium salts. These substances make it astringent, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, diuretic, tonic and hypnotic. It was used in the 19th century to combat dysentery, internal haemorrhages, and as a blood purifier. Modern herbalists use infusions to treat ailments of the respiratory tract, bronchitis, insomnia, urinary infections, suppurating wounds, eczema, and gynaecological disorders, especially excessive menstrual bleeding and vaginal discharges. Homeopaths use tinctures of the plant for the same purpose.
A tea made from the plant is still a common ‘spring tonic’ among country folk and the tender young leaves can be eaten like spinach. In some parts of the west of England it is made into a summer beer. The flowers of Dead Nettle are a valuable source of nectar for honey-bees and are often planted around hives by apiarists.
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