Spring is officially here in the Appalachian Mountains, and everything is in full bloom. My yard is covered in a carpet of beautiful wildflowers, Violets, Dandelions, Purple Dead Nettle, and Henbit. The bees are absolutely loving these bright and delicious flowers and it is keeping them busy, and I am thoroughly enjoying the colors that they are bringing to my yard.
This year, I harvested my first batch of Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum), and I am excited to put it to beneficial use. I am planning to dry some of the leaves and flowers for teas and recipes, make an extract to help with our seasonal allergies and an oil infusion for future salves. This stuff is great for itchy or irritated skin and soothing to bruises, minor cuts, and abrasions.
Purple Dead Nettle is a part of the Lamiaceae (mint) family even though its flavor does not compare to mint, at least not to my pallet. It has a square hallow stem with the leaves forming a cone at the top that taper down overlapping each other and growing larger in size.
The leaves are spade shape with rounded and serrated teeth edges with the leaves at the top of the plant having a red hue to them.
The name Purple Dead Nettle comes from the leaf’s similarity to Stinging Nettle. Though these two plants might have some similarities and share a name they are not in the same family. Its leaves are covered in small, tiny hairs that give the Dead Nettle leaves a soft fuzzy feeling that do not sting unlike the hairs on Stinging Nettle, thus its name Purple Dead Nettle. The flowers are small and grow in a cluster at the top of the stem, they are a rich purple color and have a warm strong fragrant smell and bloom during April. This plant prefers growing in full sun but can tolerate a little shade if it remains dry.
Common names for Purple Dead Nettle
· Purple Dead Nettle
· Dead Nettle
· Purple Archangel
· Red Dead Nettle
While there are no toxic plants that look like Purple Dead Nettle, there is an edible plant that shares a resemblance, Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). Purple Dead Nettle and Henbit are often found growing together in the same field, both preferring the disturbed soil in sunny locations. Both of these plants begin flowering during March and share similar looking little purple flowers. These two plants hail from the same family, Lamiacae, which is the same mint family.
(Pictured above, you have Henbit to the left, Purple Dead Nettle to the right.)
While these two are often confused for each other at first glance, once you become familiar with the two, they are easy to distinguish from each other.
(Pictured above, Henbit is on the left, Purple Dead Nettle on the right)
The leaves on the Henbit plant are rounded and scalloped, the upper leaves do not have a lead stalk and wrap around the stem. The lower leaves tend to have leaf stalks. The leaves will grow in pairs opposite from each other and wrap around the stalk with long lengths of stem in between with fine hairs.
(Pictured above Henbit is to the left, Purple Dead Nettle to the right)
The flowers are pinkish purple with spots on the lower lip, the shape resembling a giraffe’s head.
Henbit is another edible plant; its flavor has a nice milder flavor to it compared to the peppery flavor of the Purple Dead Nettle. Henbit can be added to your spring salads, mixed into smoothies along with other leafy greens and added to other meals as a dark leafy green.
Common Names for Henbit
· Henbit Deadnettle
· Greater Henbit
· Common Henbit
· Hen and Bitty
· Giraffe’s Head.
Purple Dead Nettle is not a native plant to North America, it originated in Europe and Asia and was brought here by early European settlers. This plant played a significant role in the settler’s diet during those early spring months when the food stored for the winter months had dwindled low and their planted crops had not yet had the chance to grow, making it an important plant in their spring gardens.
This is an easy plant to forage for during spring. While it originated in Europe and Asia, it became widespread throughout North America and has been labeled as a nuisance weed for most pristine lawn owners. This plant comes into bloom at the perfect time in the season to help address those seasonal allergies. Like Stinging Nettle, Mullein, Reishi Mushroom, Horehound and Goldenrod, Purple Dead Nettle is a great tool to use when giving your body the support it needs to lesson seasonal allergy symptoms.
Purple Dead Nettle can be eaten raw, though a lot of people prefer to eat it cooked into their meals such as soups, quiches, stir-fry, blended into smoothies and delicious pesto’s. This plant is a great substitute for spinach in baked foods and has also been compared to kale. This is a great dark leafy green to add to your meals, it is packed with vitamins C, A and K, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and fiber. Purple Dead Nettle is great for beginners who are venturing into the foraging world. This plant does not have any toxic look-alikes and is extremely versatile in its uses. Making it a fun plant to experiment with.
Purple Dead Nettle is an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, immunostimulant, nutritive, styptic, antihistamine, and astringent. It has a wide range of health benefits, supporting the cardiovascular system, supporting the gut microbiome and with its antimicrobial properties may be useful against candida overgrowth, its anti-inflammatory is helpful with lessoning allergy symptoms and other chronic inflammatory issues. Purple Dead Nettle can be used as a poultice, its astringent properties making it useful when being used to staunch bleeding. It is best to avoid this plant while pregnant.
If you've been itching to start your journey in the world of foraging now is a great time to take advantage of the blooming plants, exploring new flavors, gaining new knowledge and learning new skills. Spring is a time of renewal and is all about rebirth, shedding the old, new possibilities and starting a chapter in your life.