This week's wild edible is Red Dead-Nettle!
This plant is also known as purple dead-nettle and purple archangel. It is a cold hardy, shade tolerant annual plant that can be found in the winter in warmer climates. It thrives is fertile cultivated soils such as lawns and gardens (lucky us!). It can usually be found in dense patches where the soil is mostly shaded and damp or soggy. Although "nettle" is in the name, you don't have to worry about stinging with this plant. That is where the "dead" in the name "dead-nettles" comes into play.
What it looks like.
Dead-nettles are a member of the of the mint family, so they have the distinct square stem that is typical among mint. The entire plant is covered in tiny little hairs, but not to worry, they don't sting. The plant can reach up to 12 inches tall, but usually it hangs in the 5 to 8 inch range.
The leaves of this plant are a triangular shape with jagged edges. They connect right to the stem of the plant and are bunch up around the tip of the plant. The leaves have deep vein-like ridges that give a "scaly" appearance. As the plant starts growing and getting taller, the top leaves start to change colors anywhere from red to purple.
Once the weather warms up a bit, usually right around April, you will start to see the tiny tubular pink flowers appear. Be careful when the flowers are present as these are a favorite pollen source among bees. These are among some of the first flowering plants in early spring.
There are no poisonous look-a-likes for this mature plant. Henbit looks alot like this plant and tends to grow along side of it, but luckily it is also another tasty wild edible.
When and where to find it.
This is one of the first flowering plants of spring and can even show up in winter in warmer climates. It loves shaded, damp, fertile soils. Look for this colorful wild edible along buildings, under porches, in ditches, along tree lines, in lawns and gardens, and other structures that provide partial shade that keeps the soil moist and cool.
Even though it is a member of the mint family, this plant does not taste like mint. It has more of a "grassy" or "leafy" taste to it. It has been said to be a super food, packed with many vitamins and mineral.
The edible parts of this plant are everything above ground. A lot of people like to use them in salads as "spring greens", others prefer to cook them up as potherbs. Some people even blend them into super healthy powerhouse smoothies full of vitamins and minerals. A healthful tea can also be made from the leaves.
Historically this plant is said to have a couple medicinal properties. Some of those may include: treating digestion discomfort, boosting energy, stopping chills, and promoting kidney discharge and perspiration. A healing poultice can also be made from crushing the leaves.
It is also said to help with menstruation cycles by relieving pain, helping with heavy flow, and also discharge in between cycles. Because of this, women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid ingesting dead nettles.
**Warnings, Disclaimers, and Precautions**
Please be sure to read ALL of this section!!
**Women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant should avoid ingesting this plant.
**When identifying plants you are unfamiliar with, please use multiple references, as well as help from experts when available. Unless you are 110% sure what a plant is, it is best to avoid it completely.
**If you plan on using any plants for medicinal uses, consult a healthcare professional, as well as botanist familiar in the field of wild plants. And as always, use as many references and expert opinions as possible when identifying a plant.
**Be sure to avoid any plants growing near roads, around chemicals, other poisonous plants, or polluted/contaminated water.
**As always, be sure to use the Universal Edibility Test to ensure the plant is the correct plant and to help identify any unknown allergies you may have.