STINGING NETTLE (Urtica dioica), an ancient herb native to much of Europe and North America, which dates to the time of the Druids, is very appropriately named because it will cause extremely annoying contact dermatitis if brushed against because it is covered with tiny sharp hairs that literally inject histamine on contact (human and animals) causing a reaction similar to poison ivy. So I would (1) cage it with ample border; and (2) put a Mr Yukky sign on it if you are going to include in your garden and (3) definitely wear gloves when working on or near this herb. Happily, it grows where perhaps you don't have any other favs -- shady, dry areas that in my garden are often overtaken by weeds. Since Nettles will spread joyfully by rhizomes, you can have this "weed" instead of others! For use as a food or for medicinal purposes, soaking in water or cooking does remove those nasty skin-reactive chemicals. Grows 3-7 feet tall and dies to the ground in winter. Perennial in zones 5-10. 50 seeds.
MEDICINAL PROPERTIES: Wikipedia notes that ..."Nettle leaf is a herb that has a long tradition of use as an adjuvant remedy in the treatment of arthritis in Germany. Nettle leaf extract contains active compounds that reduce TNF-α and other inflammatory cytokines... by potently inhibiting the genetic transcription factor that activates TNF-α and IL-1B in the synovial tissue that lines the joint. Nettle is also used in shampoo to control dandruff and is said to make hair more glossy...Nettle root extracts have been extensively studied in human clinical trials as a treatment for symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). These extracts have been shown to help relieve symptoms compared to placebo both by themselves and when combined with other herbal medicines.
CULINARY: One of its most important uses is as a vegetative rennet (in place of the baby ruminant tummies that are traditionally used - see below). If harvested before flowering (this is important because after flowering occurs it should not be eaten) Stinging nettle tastes similar to spinach when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Young plants were harvested by Native Americans and used as a cooked plant in spring when other food plants were scarce. Soaking nettles in water or cooking will remove the stinging chemicals from the plant, which allows them to be handled and eaten without incidence of stinging. An alcoholic beer can also be made from this plant.
GROWING TIPS: Start anytime from late winter to late summer in pots or flats containing lightweight sterilized soil mix. Keep evenlty moist but not soggy. As seedlings appear, gradually expose to direct light and when large enough to handle (with gloves) transfer to pots and harden off before transplanting to garden after all danger of frost.
VEGETABLE RENNET USING STINGING NETTLE: So easy. Harvest your nettles before flowering occurs and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Put in large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil then turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add a teaspoon or so of sea salt to release the enzymes. Drain through cheesecloth -- its the liquid drained off that is your rennet. Use in a ratio of 1C Rennet to 1Gallon Milk to make cheese. The rennet will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.