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Herbs & Plants

Urtica gracilis

Botanical Name: Urtica gracilis
Family: Urticaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Rosales
Genus: Urtica
Species: U. dioica
Subspecies: U. d. subsp. gracilis

Synonyms:
*Urtica californica Greene
*Urtica dioica var. angustifolia Schltdl.
*Urtica dioica var. californica (Greene) C.L. Hitchc.
*Urtica dioica var. gracilis (Aiton) R.L. Taylor & MacBryde
*Urtica dioica var. lyallii (S. Watson) C.L. Hitchc.
*Urtica dioica var. procera (Muhl. ex Willd.) Wedd.
*Urtica gracilis Aiton
*Urtica lyallii S. Watson
*Urtica procera Muhl. ex Willd.
*Urtica viridis Rydb.

Common Names: : California nettle or American stinging nettle

Habitat:Urtica gracilis is native to most of the United States and Canada.( Range:N. Europe. N. America – Newfoundland to British Columbia, south to North Carolina and Louisiana). It grows in the thickets and damp rich soils. Dry soils. Alluvial woods, margins of deciduous woodlands, fencerows and waste places from sea level to 3100 metres.

Description:
Urtica gracilis is a herbaceous perennial plant, growing to 1.5 m (5ft).The plant is usually unbranched, although short stems may develop from the leaf axils. The central stem is light green and stout; it has several flat ridges that are separated by narrow channels. The central stem is sparsely covered with stiff white hairs of variable length; these hairs can penetrate the skin and sting. Along the central stem are pairs of opposite leaves that droop downward slightly. The leaf blades are up to 8″ long and 2½” across; they are medium to dark green, lanceolate, and coarsely serrated. The base of each leaf blade is rounded or slightly cordate. The upper surface of each leaf blade is heavily veined and glabrous, while the lower surface has sparse stiff hairs that can also sting. The slender petioles of the leaves are up to 1″ long. At the base of each petiole, there is a pair of stipules up to ½” long.

Panicles of flowers develop from the axils of the middle to upper leaves. These panicles are much branched and droop downward; their pubescent branches are heavily covered with flowers. Slender Nettle is monoecious to slightly dioecious; some plants have male flowers entirely or predominantly, while other plants have female flowers entirely or predominately. The male flowers are 1/8″ (3 mm.) across with 4 green sepals and 4 white stamens. The female flowers are 1/8″ across with 4 green sepals; the 2 inner sepals that enclose the ovary are larger in size than the 2 outer sepals. The sepals of both male and female flowers are pubescent; neither kind of flower has petals. The blooming period occurs during the summer and can last 1-2 months for a colony of plants. Pollination of the flowers is by wind. The brown seeds are 1.0–1.5 mm. long and irregular in shape. They can remain viable in the ground for 10 years. The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous. Clonal colonies are often produced from the long rhizomes.

It is not frost tender. It is in flower from June to August. The species is dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required). and is pollinated by Wind. The plant is not self-fertile.

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Cultivation:
The preference is partial sun to light shade, moist to mesic conditions, and light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil. The Flora of North America treats this taxon as a sub-species of U. dioica. The following notes are based on the general needs of the genus. Prefers a nitrogen-rich soil. The best fibre is produced when plants are grown on deep fertile soils. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.. Most growth occurs during late spring and mid-summer. This plant can spread aggressively in favorable situations. The leaves are often attacked by insects.

Edible Uses:
Young leaves are cooked and eaten.. A very nutritious food, high in vitamins and minerals, it makes an excellent spinach substitute and can also be added to soups and stews. Only use the young leaves and wear stout gloves when harvesting them to prevent getting stung. Although the fresh leaves have stinging hairs, thoroughly drying or cooking them destroys these hairs. Nettle beer is brewed from the young shoots.

Medicinal Uses:
The leaves are alterative, antiasthmatic, antidandruff, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic and expectorant. A decoction has been used in the treatment of colds. The fresh leaves of nettles have been rubbed or beaten onto the skin in the treatment of rheumatism etc. This practice, called urtification, causes intense irritation to the skin as it is stung by the nettles. It is believed that this treatment works in two ways. Firstly, it acts as a counter-irritant, bringing more blood to the area to help remove the toxins that cause rheumatism. Secondly, the formic acid from the nettles is believed to have a beneficial effect upon the rheumatic joints. An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of dysentery and urine retention. A decoction of the root has been used as a bath in the treatment of rheumatism.

Other Uses:
A strong flax-like fibre is obtained from the stems. Used for making string and cloth, it also makes a good quality paper. It is harvested as the plant begins to die down in early autumn and is retted before the fibres are extracted. The following uses have been listed for U. dioica, but they are almost certainly also applicable to this species. The plant matter left over after the fibres have been extracted are a good source of biomass and have been used in the manufacture of sugar, starch, protein and ethyl alcohol. An oil obtained from the seeds is used as an illuminant. An essential ingredient of ‘QR’ herbal compost activator. This is a dried and powdered mixture of several herbs that can be added to a compost heap in order to speed up bacterial activity and thus shorten the time needed to make the compost. The leaves are also an excellent addition to the compost heap and they can be soaked for 7 – 21 days in water to make a very nutritious liquid feed for plants[54]. This liquid feed is both insect repellent and a good foliar feed. The growing plant increases the essential oil content of other nearby plants, thus making them more resistant to insect pests. Although many different species of insects feed on nettles, flies are repelled by the plant so a bunch of freshly cut stems has been used as a repellent in food cupboards. The juice of the plant, or a decoction formed by boiling the herb in a strong solution of salt, will curdle milks and thus acts as a rennet substitute. This same juice, if rubbed into small seams of leaky wooden tubs, will coagulate and make the tub watertight again. A hair wash is made from the infused leaves and this is used as a tonic and antidandruff treatment. A beautiful and permanent green dye is obtained from a decoction of the leaves and stems. A yellow dye is obtained from the root when boiled with alum.

Known Hazards: The leaves of the plants have stinging hairs, causing irritation to the skin. This action is neutralized by heat so the cooked leaves are perfectly safe and nutritious. However, only young leaves should be used because older leaves develop gritty particles called cystoliths which act as an irritant to the kidneys.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urtica_dioica_subsp._gracilis
https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Urtica+gracilis
https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/savanna/plants/sl_nettle.htm

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