or knowing your Dead Nettles

Funny how you can go through life mis-naming things. If it looks like a Dead Nettle, feels like a Dead Nettle, and an adult in the dim and distant past called it that – then surely it is a Dead Nettle? Well, that ain’t necessarily so…

Red Dead Nettle?

There are many of these growing at the margins of the woodland garden, soft, downy leaves, square stem and red lipped (labiate) flowers. It looks very similar to this flower…

White Dead Nettle

White Dead Nettle (Lamium album), this is from a plant brought back from a wood shop on the east coast. It grew happily in the city garden and the small piece that came to the country garden is happily growing under the hedge. Feeling pleased that it took off really well, but perplexed when another plant appeared all over the garden looking very similar in its early form…

Hemp Nettle

But the veining is quite different, it feels rough and dry but similar white flowers. (I know I identified it two years ago but again filled with doubt. It’s not Lamium but possibly Hemp Nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit L )…

Yellow Archangel

And then there’s Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon), spreading out from the small cutting brought with us; only to discover it rampant beside the burn. Sporting bright yellow labiate flowers…

Red Dead Nettle seedling

This little plant is all over the “orchard” (I use the term loosely as I let the wild flowers self-seed and now it’s a matt of – well – weeds!) Having identified it, content in the knowledge, I promptly forgot its name.

Tools of the Trade

So, what I really needed was a good plant ID book (I like Julian Barker), my hand lens and my Grandmother’s old nineteenth century books “Familiar Wild Flowers“. (If you use Maude’s  A Modern Herbal – she lifts whole chunks of these books and places them in her own!)

Plant ID

Gathering all the leaves, observing the leaf-shape, leaf margins, veining, leaf arrangements. Comparing colour, texture, smell…

Red Dead Nettle

So this little plant is Red Dead Nettle (Lamium purpurea) a common farmland plant. The leaves may be used to stop bleeding and as a bruise-herb, Mr Barker suggests that young shoots could be cooked with chives in a little butter.

Red Dead Nettle?

So, the plant I thought was Red Dead Nettle? I think it could be Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), when the leaves are crushed it smells like Ballota nigra (Black Horehound). Quite different from Wood Betony (Stachys betonica) which is a really useful herb for headache and neuralgia.

Good advice when wild harvesting or foraging is “if in doubt leave it out” and don’t take more than you need, leave enough for the wild life that shares your community.

Since returning to the country I have re-learned so much that I had forgotten, un-learned things I thought were right and keep on learning and discovering.  As a learned herbalist reminded me ” A good herbalist realises that the more they know the more there is still to learn.” So, here’s to learning…

What did you learn today that surprised you?

(There is so much info on the web and not all of it is correct so don’t take my word for it, please, if you are planning to use herbs, do spend time learning and invest in a good wild flower book to help you.)