As soon as spring comes to life again, you’re bound to see internet forums light up with people asking how to use purple dead nettle. While it might be a nuisance garden weed to some, all it takes is a little herb-sense to wonder if there’s more to this prolific spring green.
And there is. But I didn’t always know that.
In fact, I used to wonder how my beautiful garden beds could go to sleep for the winter completely weed-free, yet spring back to life covered in patches of this fuzzy, soft weed with reddish-purple tops.
But rather than wonder how I could just get rid of the plant, I started asking better questions. What is this? Is it edible? Does it offer any health benefits? How can I use it?
After some research, I was delighted by the answers I found. Now I get to share them with you, along with my favorite way to use this wild spring herb: in a purple dead nettle-infused vinegar.
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Why Is It Called “Dead” Nettle?
The name dead nettle refers to the fact that this plant doesn’t offer any sting.
However, purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) isn’t actually a nettle at all. In fact, it’s not even in the same plant family as stinging nettle.
Purple dead nettle is from the mint family (Lamiaceae). If you know anything about botany, you might already know that these plants all have square stems.
However, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is part of the Uritcaceae family, also known as the stinging nettle family. These plants all have stinging hairs.
Purple dead nettle only slightly resembles true stinging nettle, but someone along the line decided they looked similar enough to share a common name. Maybe they needed glasses. I’m not sure.
Dead nettle is also sometimes called purple archangel.
How to Identify and Harvest Purple Dead Nettle
Before you can learn how to use purple dead nettle, you have to learn how to identify and harvest it. Thankfully, that’s pretty easy.
Purple dead nettle shows up in the early to mid-spring. It starts out 2-3 inches tall with soft, light green leaves that are covered in fuzzy hairs. The leaves are usually around an inch long and grow opposite along square stems (remember, mint family).
As it grows taller and matures, the upper leaves take on a reddish-purple color. Eventually, small tubular purple flowers appear and lure in early pollinators.
I prefer to harvest the flowering tops of dead nettle by either snipping them with scissors or just pinching them off with my fingers. You can harvest further down the plant, but I don’t care for the stems.
How to Tell Apart Purple Dead Nettle, Henbit, and Ground Ivy
The hardest part about identifying this herb is deciding if you actually have dead nettle, henbit, or ground ivy. All three of these plants start to appear in the spring. They have some similar traits. And they all prefer the same growing location.
Here are some quick tips to help you tell which is which.
- Purple dead nettle will grow reddish-purple top leaves, while the other two won’t. The leaves are also more triangular and grow closely together at the top of the stem.
- Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) has rounded scalloped leaves that attach directly to the stem, wrapping around it. The flowers are pinker than dead nettle’s.
- Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has rounded scalloped leaves like henbit, but they attach to the stem with smaller stems called petioles. Its flowers are more of a blueish-purple and come out later than both dead nettle’s and henbit’s.
Thankfully, all of these lookalikes are safe to use in food and remedies. If you use one instead of the other, there’s no harm. But if you want to make extra sure you have the right plant, you can see photo comparisons and get more details here.
How to Dry Your Freshly Harvested Herb
You can use fresh purple dead nettle in food, teas, and other preparations. But if you’re like me and want to keep fresh herbs from your yard and garden available year round, you’ll probably want to dry some dead nettle.
If you have a food dehydrator, this is very easy. Simply harvest the flowering tops of the herb on a nice day when it hasn’t been raining. Lay them out in a single layer on your dehydrator screen or tray and set your machine to 95*F. They should finish in 6-12 hours, depending on your machine and how much you harvested.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can still dry purple dead nettle. Just harvest as described above, then lay the tops on thin, clean fabric (like a kitchen tea towel) placed over baking drying racks. Set them out of direct sunlight and where there’s good airflow.
Alternately, you could harvest more of the stem portion of the plant, then tie them up in bunches and hang them to dry. For an even more convenient and appliance-free way to dry herbs, lots of people love mesh herb drying racks!
Once your dead nettle is dry, store it in a glass jar and away from heat and light. It should keep its color, flavor, and scent until the following spring when it starts growing again.
Is Purple Dead Nettle Edible?
Yes, this abundant wild spring green is edible! It has a green, spinach-like flavor that is just a bit sweet when it’s in flower. However, some people dislike its fuzzy texture. But when you’re thinking about how to use purple dead nettle, food should definitely be a consideration.
I’ve used dead nettle chopped up in soups, thrown into salads, and just eaten off the stem. Out of all the ways I’ve eaten it, I’ve preferred it in soups the most.
Cooking it takes away the fuzzy mouthfeel that can seem a little strange. But in small amounts, and especially when chopped up a bit, it’s a fun addition to raw salads, too.
I make a delicious chickweed smoothie in the spring and fall and have wondered how some purple dead nettle might taste in it. I think, as long as it was blended up really well to get rid of the fuzz factor, it would work just fine in place of the chickweed.
Does Purple Dead Nettle Have Medicinal Uses?
Like any green herb, purple dead nettle will offer various health benefits because of the helpful phytochemicals and nutrients it contains, like vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.
However, there’s a limited amount of scientific research and historical use information on this plant’s potential medicinal benefits. Instead, you can find much more information about its cousin white dead nettle (Lamium album).
One research paper looked at 3 Lamium species, L. album, L. maculatum, and L. purpureum (purple dead nettle). The researchers discussed various folk uses, such as anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and astringent uses. While there’s a limited amount of modern clinical research on this plant genus, in vitro studies support its anti-inflammatory action.
Some people use purple dead nettle in salves for skin irritation or joint pain. Others use it in teas, tinctures, and other extracts for seasonal allergy support and general wellness.
If you decide to try using this plant to support your health, just remember that it won’t have the same benefits and uses as stinging nettle since the plants are completely different.
Purple Dead Nettle Herbal Vinegar Recipe
While I enjoy dead nettle as a wild green snack food and even add it to my herbal infusions, my favorite way to prepare it is as a mineral-rich herbal vinegar.
Vinegar doesn’t create a concentrated herbal extract like alcohol does, but it’s great at extracting minerals. When you infused nutritive herbs into raw apple cider vinegar, you’re left with a mineral-rich vinegar that you can use for all sorts of purposes.
The process is so easy. You’ll just need organic raw apple cider vinegar, freshly dried purple dead nettle, and a glass jar with a plastic lid.
- Loosely fill a glass jar with freshly dried purple dead nettle. (It doesn’t have to be perfectly dry, but any extra moisure in the plant can shorten the shelf-life of the finished vinegar since it adds water.)
- Pour organic, raw apple cider vinegar over the herb to cover it completely.
- Stir it slightly to remove any air bubbles and add extra dead nettle or vinegar as needed. The dry herb will swell as it infuses, so keep that in mind as you fill your jar.
- Cover the jar with a food-safe plastic lid that won’t react to the acidic vinegar. (Alternately, you can cover the top of the jar with waxed paper and secure a metal lid on top.)
- Allow it to infuse for 2-4 weeks, shaking daily or whenever you remember.
- Strain the vinegar through a metal mesh strainer lined with a clean cloth, squeezing out any vinegar left in the herbal material.
- Pour the vinegar into a bottle (I save the original apple cider vinegar bottle and reuse it) and label it, including the date made. Compost the spent herbs.
The vinegar will last for 6-12 months in a typical kitchen cupboard.
How to Use Your Herb-Infused Vinegar
You can use your herb-infused vinegar in cooking, in skin and hair care, and even as a health-boosting tonic. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Use it in place of plain vinegar in homemade salad dressings and marinades.
- Add 1-3 teaspoons to your water for a mineral-rich health tonic that supports gut health, digestion, and certain metabolic markers.
- Dilute 1 tablespoon vinegar in a cup of water and use as a scalp and hair rinse after washing your hair.
- Apply to your skin to soothe rashes, burns, and other irritations, diluting as necessary.
If you want to take your vinegar internally, always take it with water. Straight apple cider vinegar is quite acidic (it’s vinegar, after all) and can harm your tooth enamel and irritate your upper digestive tract when taken regularly. It’s perfectly safe and well-tolerated by most people when diluted in water, though.
Printable Recipe Card
- 4 cups loosely packed and freshly dried purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) flowering tops
- 1 quart organic raw apple cider vinegar
- Add the dried herb to a quart-sized glass jar, filling it around 3/4 of the way full.
- Pour the vinegar over the top until the herbs are covered completely.
- Gently stir to remove any air bubbles. Add more dead nettle or vinegar if needed. The dried herb will swell as it infuses in vinegar, so be careful when adding extra dead nettle.
- Cover the jar with a food-safe plastic lid. You can also cover the jar top with waxed paper and use a metal lid if you don't want to use plastic. Vinegar will corrode metal lids.
- Shake the vinegar daily, or as often as you remember.
- After 2 weeks (or longer, if you forget), strain your vinegar through a metal mesh strainer lined with a clean, lint-free cloth. Squeeze any extra vinegar out of the herbal material before composting it.
- Pour the vinegar into a glass bottle (reuse the original vinegar bottle, if possible) and label it, including the date strained.
You can use your herb-infused vinegar in a number of ways.
- Use it in place of plain vinegar in salad dressings and marinades.
- Add 1-3 teaspoons to a glass of water for a mineral-rich tonic that supports digestion, gut health, and healthy metabolism.
- Dilute 1 tablespoon of vinegar in 1 cup of water and use as a hair and scalp rinse after washing your hair.
- Apply to your skin to soothe rashes, burns, and other irritations, diluting as needed.
Other Ways to Use Purple Dead Nettle
You can use this early spring green in lots of ways besides making a nutritious herbal vinegar. Here are some more ideas to help you appreciate all purple dead nettle has to offer!
- I love a simple dead nettle, lemon balm, and peppermint herbal infusion. Just add equal parts of each herb, fresh or dried, to a reusable cloth tea bag, mesh tea strainer, or this handy mason jar tea infuser. Pour over freshly boiled water and let your herbs steep while covered for at least 15 minutes and up to a few hours. Enjoy hot or chilled. So good!
- Add it to a spring greens pesto, like my Garlic Mustard Pesto.
- The Herbal Academy has a tasty-looking recipe for Dead Nettle & Chickweed Fritters. Yum!
- The Nerdy Farm Wife offers instructions for a simple Purple Dead Nettle Salve, as well as 2 other salve recipes which include other herbs.
With so many uses, I no longer have to complain when dead nettle shows up in my garden beds every spring. Now I look forward to it and harvest as much as I can while it’s there. After all, I’ll have to wait until the next spring when it invades my garden beds again to get more!