Sure, it’s a weed, but ortiga — commonly known as stinging nettle — can be cultivated in your home landscape.
Ortiga’s scientific name, urtica diocia, identifies it as part of the Urticaceae family, comprising more than 2,500 species of herbs, vines, shrubs, and small trees.
Reasons for adding ortiga to your home landscape include attracting beneficial insects or using it in cooking as a replacement for other leafy greens. Read on to learn more about how and why to grow ortiga.
How to Grow Ortiga
First, a word of caution: Ortiga has tiny hairlike structures on its leaves and stems that secrete histamines and other chemicals that can cause a painful stinging sensation when touched.
In humans, histamines help the body get rid of allergy triggers. But they also produce stinging, tears, or itching — just like ortiga.
Growing Ortiga From Seeds
Most ortiga is grown from seeds. Experts suggest the seeds get a “cold treatment” before they germinate. If you’re starting your seeds indoors, freeze them for several weeks before planting in starter pots.
If you’re direct-sowing ortiga seeds, plant them in late fall so they’ll freeze during winter before sprouting in spring.
Growing Ortiga From Plants
You can buy ortiga plants, but you can also find ortiga growing wild. Ortiga is common throughout the United States along rivers and streams or almost anywhere with full sun and rich dirt.
Ortiga grows densely, making it easy to dig up and transplant. If you forage for ortiga, remember to wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants while handling it.
So now that you’ve decided to grow ortiga, how do you keep it under control so that it doesn’t turn into a garden menace?
To keep ortiga from spreading, remove the flowers it produces each spring, cutting them quickly with pruning shears or a sharp knife. You can also keep ortiga from spreading by thinning out the plants, cutting back their stems and leaves.
Ortiga is susceptible to bacterial diseases like canker, viral diseases like tobacco mosaic, and fungal diseases like powdery mildew. Signs of bacterial and fungal diseases include wilting, yellowing, and spotting of leaves.
Viral diseases also show up as yellowing and spotting of leaves, along with stunted growth.
Prevention is the best way to deal with ortiga diseases. Preventing fungal and bacterial diseases means keeping the plants thinned out to ensure sunlight and air penetration. Avoiding overwatering also can help control fungal and bacterial diseases.
For viral diseases, preventative measures include keeping contaminated water and soil away from the plants. If a viral disease infects ortiga, the only cure is to pull it up.
Dealing With an Ortiga Sting
If you do come into contact with ortiga toxins, don’t touch any area where you feel the stinging sensation. Touching or rubbing will force toxins deeper into the skin, likely extending the painful reaction for days.
Instead, immediately flush the affected area with water, then clean it with soap and water.
To ensure all ortiga fibers are removed from your skin, wrap it lightly with duct tape and pull the tape away.
Benefits of Adding Ortiga to Your Garden
You may have noticed this post hasn’t mentioned any pests that adversely affect ortiga. That’s because ortiga actually brings beneficial insects to your garden and home landscape.
In particular, ortiga attracts numerous pollinators, including bees drawn to the plant’s nectar and pollen. That, in turn, contributes to the pollination of other fruit, vegetable, and ornamental plants in your landscape.
Other pollinators, including butterflies and moths, are attracted to flowering ortiga. You’ll also likely find ladybugs among your ortiga. They feed on aphids, protecting both the ortiga and surrounding plants from the sap-sucking, disease-transmitting insects.
How to Use Ortiga in the Kitchen
Ortiga is a worthy addition to your diet, containing vitamins A, C, and K, along with some B vitamins. It also contains calcium, iron, potassium, and sodium.
Preparing Ortiga for Eating
Cooking ortiga in any way will disarm its toxic properties. But if you’re not in a hurry to use it, you can dehydrate or air-dry it. The first step in either process is to put on a pair of gloves and wash the ortiga in a bowl of cold water.
After the initial wash, get a fresh bowl of water and wash the ortiga again. Then, place it on a clean towel, rolling it and patting it to begin the drying process.
In a dehydrator, spread the stems and leaves on the drying trays, set the temperature at 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and leave them for 12 to 18 hours.
To air-dry, gather a half-dozen stems and bind them with kitchen string. Tying more than a half-dozen stems together will impede air circulation and complicate drying.
Once your stems are tied together, hang them in a dry, dark, and clean area. It will take one to three weeks to dry completely.
Ideas for Cooking With Ortiga
You’ll be surprised with the versatility of ortiga in the kitchen. For example, you can make ortiga pesto, an alternative to the familiar basil pesto. As a first step, blanch the ortiga — bring it to a boil and then cool it in an ice bath — to get rid of its sting.
Next, add walnuts, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to the ortiga in a blender. Add olive oil until you’ve produced a creamy pesto.
Ortiga In Soup
You can also use ortiga in soup, as the cooking process will deactivate its toxins. You will, though, still have to wash it before using it. Try combining ortiga with potatoes, vegetable stock and onion for soup. Add the ortiga when just a couple of minutes are left in the cooking process.
Pizza With Ortiga
Ortiga can be used in pizza either as a vegetable alternative or as a centerpiece. To make ortiga pizza, toss the ortiga with cream, salt, and red pepper flakes. Place the mixture atop rolled-out pizza dough and bake in a 500-degree oven.
Medicinal Benefits of Ortiga
Ortiga is believed to have numerous medicinal benefits and has traditionally been used to address high blood pressure. Experts suspect ortiga may promote nitric oxide production, which relaxes blood vessels.
Also, studies have indicated ortiga may help control blood sugar. One suspected reason is that it may contain chemicals that mimic insulin.
There are, however, some medical cautions for ortiga. Speak to your doctor before consuming it if you’re taking blood thinners, blood pressure medication, diuretics, diabetes medications, or lithium.
Wrapping up Ortiga
You can learn more about ortiga, under its alternate name of stinging nettle, elsewhere at Minneopa Orchards.
If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.
- About the Author
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As a longtime homeowner, Jim Thompson has tried over the years, with varying degrees of success, to enhance his residential landscapes.
As a reporter and editor for newspapers in rural Georgia, Jim interacted frequently with agricultural experts from the University of Georgia Extension Service, learning about soils and other aspects of growing things for both commercial and residential purposes.
A graduate of the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Jim covered a variety of beats before retiring and embarking on writing for Minneopa Orchards.
Jim can be reached at email@example.com