How to Make Stinging Nettle Fertilizer Tea to Feed Plants
It is almost spring, and that means the nettles are on their way! Do stinging nettles grow rampantly in your area? If so, you’re in luck. Because that means you have an abundance of free and fabulous fertilizer – right at your fingertips! Uh, gloved fingertips that is. Read along to learn about the benefits of stinging nettle, how to comfortably harvest it, and how to turn it into homemade fermented nettle fertilizer tea. The other plants in your garden will thrive in return!
What is Stinging Nettle?
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica, also known as common nettle or nettle leaf) is an herbaceous perennial plant. It usually pops up each spring, and easily spreads after flowering and going to seed. Nettle is native to Europe but now grows in damp fertile soils virtually throughout the world. If you’re foraging for wild nettles, look in shady and moist locations like along creeks.
Stinging nettle is often considered a “weed” due to its promiscuous growth habits. It also catches a bad wrap as a bully (admittedly justified) by causing a painful itching and burning sensation to those who come in contact with the sharp hairs that cover its leaves. An inflammatory nettle rash is uncomfortable, but temporary and not dangerous. Furthermore, after reading about the stellar benefits of stinging nettle, perhaps you’ll realize that nettle can be even more of an asset than a nuisance!
Health benefits of stinging nettle
Herbalists, naturopaths, and many organic gardeners recognize stinging nettle as a favorable plant to have around – given its numerous and well-researched healing properties. Compounds found in nettle make it excellent at fighting bacterial infections, reducing inflammation and arthritis, relieving pain, easing allergy symptoms, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and more. In fact, this natural nettle quercetin is the only “allergy pill” I take – and I am quite sensitive to environmental allergens!
How to prepare fresh stinging nettles
In order to reap the benefits of stinging nettle, they need to be “de-stung” first. (That is, if you want to consume them yourself). The best and easiest way to prepare fresh stinging nettle is to blanch them in water. The brief exposure to high heat neutralizes the stinging hairs. Rinse them afterwards, which doubles as washing them as well.
Now, you can enjoy the blanched and rinsed nettles fresh, juiced, added to soup, frozen, or dehydrated into tea or powder for later use. Nettles are delicious and earthy, like a cross between spinach and arugula. I suggest sautéing them in EVOO with salt, pepper, and even a little garlic or onion – much like you would kale or other leafy greens.
Okay, that is all fine and dandy… but isn’t this article about stinging nettle fertilizer? How does nettle benefit other plants?
Why Make Stinging Nettle Fertilizer Tea
As a vegetarian and avid organic gardener, I find it extremely rewarding to be able to create our own free and natural plant-based fertilizers. Plants feeding plants, if you will. For example, by making various botanical teas or fermented plant juice – which is what we are doing today. The process is even better when the plant ingredients come from our garden, or can be foraged for locally! We also like to routinely feed our seedlings, newly-planted trees and other plants with homemade aloe vera soil drench. Of course, composting at home is the ultimate way to create free organic fertilizer.
The benefits of stinging nettle fertilizer for plants
Stinging nettle belongs to a special group of plants referred to as “dynamic accumulators”, which also includes yarrow, borage, fava beans, comfrey, dandelion, miner’s lettuce, and chickweed. Those “dynamic accumulators” readily take up nutrients and minerals from the soil, and then store them in highly bioavailable forms and concentrations in their leaves. This makes nettles (and all other dynamic accumulators!) an excellent nutrient-rich addition to botanical teas, homemade fertilizers, mulch, or to a compost pile.
Scientific studies show that fresh stinging nettles leaves are loaded with high concentrations of vitamins A, C, D, E, F, K, P, and vitamin B-complexes, as well as large amounts of minerals including calcium, selenium, zinc, iron, magnesium and more. As a leafy green, stinging nettle is also high in nitrogen, chlorophyll, and plant polyphenols – all of which bolster plant health and stimulate growth. Plant polyphenols in particular are potent antioxidants, fight cancer, and boost the immune system.
While plants may not get arthritis or cancer in the same way humans do, plants do have an immune system – and can get sick! Therefore, the same compounds that make nettle awesome for human health provide many of the same benefits to plants. For example, plants treated with stinging nettle fertilizer are less susceptible to certain diseases due to nettles’ anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Plants with a strong immune system are also less negatively impacted by pests or stress, such as drought, heat, or other unfavorable conditions.
SUPPLIES NEEDED TO MAKE NETTLE FERTILIZER TEA
- Stinging Nettle
- Prick-proof gloves. Thick leather pruning gloves (or similar leather alternative) are especially protective against thorns and nettles.
- Trimming shears or scissors
- Water, preferably un-chlorinated – such as collected rain water. To dechlorinate city tap water, either allow it to sit out in the sun in a bucket for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate, or use a carbon hose filter.
- Bucket with lid
- Stir stick
- A fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, paint strainer bag, or nut milk bag.
I will go ahead and air the dirty laundry now: fermented stinging nettle tea fertilizer stinks. Big time! So much so, that it’s sometimes referred to as “nettle manure”. Or as I like to call it: Stinking Nettle Tea. Therefore, I strongly suggest you make your stinging nettle fertilizer outside somewhere and not in your garage or house. Please don’t let the funky aroma dissuade you from making nettle tea! But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Steps to Make Stinging Nettle Fertilizer Tea
- Collect nettle in a bucket. We typically loosely fill a 5-gallon bucket. To harvest stinging nettle, you can either pull it out by the roots (if you don’t want it to grow back this season) or use scissors/shears to trim it instead. Wear gloves to protect yourself!
- In the bucket, chop the nettle into smaller pieces. Finer pieces equals more surface area for fermentation and the release of nutrients.
- Add enough water to cover the nettle in the bucket. It should be able to stir freely and not be overly thick.
- Set the lid on top of the bucket, but don’t seal it.
- Stir the brewing nettle tea once per day if possible. Bubbles should appear as you stir it.
- After one to two weeks, the nettle tea is finished brewing. A good signal that your fertilizer is ready is when it stops visibly bubbling after stirring. That means the nettle is no longer actively fermenting.
- Strain the nettle solids from the tea liquid. We do this by pouring the solution through a funnel lined with a reusable paint strainer (which we use to brew actively aerated compost tea) into another bucket. Compost the leftover strained solids.
- Store the finished concentrated stinging nettle tea in a bucket with a lid. Nettle tea fertilizer must be diluted before it is applied to the garden! Read instructions below.
- Use brewed nettle tea fertilizer within about 6 months.
How to Use Stinging Nettle Tea as Fertilizer
Nettle tea is very potent, and therefore needs to be watered down before using it to feed other plants in your garden. To dilute it into a usable fertilizer, mix 1 part brewed nettle tea to 10 parts water. For example, one quart of nettle tea to 10 quarts of water. We find it easiest to dilute and mix a small portion of nettle fertilizer in a separate container as-needed (immediately before use), rather than diluting a huge batch and storing it all.
Nettle tea soil drench
After diluting, simply water your plants of choice with it as a “soil drench”, much like you would with other liquid fertilizers. The recommended dose depends on the size of the plant or container. A smaller plant or pot will be happy with just a cup or two. To feed larger plants or an entire raised garden bed with nettle tea, try applying it with a watering can evenly across the soil. When in doubt, start with smaller feedings, see how the plants respond, and go from there.
Feel free to repeat nettle fertilizer tea applications once every month or two, but not more often than every 3 weeks. Because of the odor, I personally avoid using nettle tea to feed houseplants – though it can be done! I stick to using compost tea or dilute seaweed extract indoors.
How to use stinging nettle tea foliar spray
In addition to feeding the soil and roots, you can also spray diluted nettle tea onto a plant’s leaves. When applied as a foliar spray, stinging nettle tea works as a strong insect repellent. The active compounds in stinging nettles are reported to deter aphids, mites, and thrips. Even more, plants readily absorb nutrients through the leaves, entering their vascular systems even more quickly than those taken up by their roots.
To make nettle foliar spray, be sure that your brewed nettle tea has been strained very well with a fine mesh strainer. Otherwise, leftover plant material will easily clog your sprayer. This time, dilute 1 part nettle tea to 20 parts water and add it to your sprayer of choice. It is best practice to apply any type of foliar sprays in the evening hours once the plant is out of direct sun. This reduces the risk of sunburn to wet leaves, and is the time when beneficial insects are least active. Spray the leaves until they’re thoroughly coated and dripping.
Due to the funky odor, we generally avoid spraying leafy greens like kale or lettuce with nettle tea. Or, directly on to fruit and veggies. However, nettle tea foliar spray is excellent for things like hemp (before flowering), ornamental plants, or tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or fruit trees – before their fruit appears.
So simple, right?
In summary, plants that receive stinging nettle fertilizer tea will experience increased growth and resilience! Making your own nettle tea with homegrown or wild nettles is free, sustainable, and easy to do. I hope you enjoyed this article, and feel excited to go hunt down some nettles of your own! Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, and spread the nettle love by sharing this article.
Yo I was looking for some information about making nettle tea to use as fertilizer.
well I got all the information I needed !
I also wanted to say I really like the way this was written.
With love, informative and the rythem feels natural and free.
Hi! Thanks for all of this info! We have a backyard full of stinging nettles, but our front yard is thankfully free of them. If I use the fertilizer in the front yard flower beds, am I risking setting the front yard up for an invasion of nettle?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Sasana, we never had nettle spread by using the stinging nettle tea, just be sure you strain out the plant material and seeds well with a nut milk bag or other fine mesh strainer after it has finished fermenting. Also, be sure to compost the extra plant material in your city/town green waste bin and not your own compost bin as it may pop up there after you discard it. Hope that helps and good luck!
I have made the tea in November as per instructios. The smell has a new dimension, never smelled somethng like that. It accidentaly touched my finger which I would gladly chjop that point to get rid of that smell.
My tea has been in a plastic container covered outside, its just that the color is brown not green. How can I know if somehow it has going bad and its not good to use for plants anymore? thank you
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Filothei, yes the smell is quite off putting, that is shy we call it “stinky nettle tea” on occasion. I wouldn’t be worried about the change in color as that is fairly common as the tea ages, it’s just the chlorophyll content (which makes it green) decreasing with time. Since the tea is fermented, we try and use it within 6 months of making it but it may last longer than that as well. Also, I always use latex or nitrile gloves when working with the nettle tea as to not introduce any parts of my body to the strong smelling liquid, just be sure to dilute your tea when you feed plants so it doesn’t overwhelm them. Hope that helps and good luck!
Hi. I have Stinging Nettle Root Extract capsules 250 mg. Can these be used? If so, what would the ratio be? Thanks.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Jessica, I am sure the extract wouldn’t hurt to use in the garden but I would just stick to using it as a supplement. To make the fermented tea, the nettle has to be fresh for the ferment process to take place. You can likely find dried, bulk, loose leaf stinging nettle which could be used to make individual batches of a botanical nettle leaf tea by steeping .5 to 1 cup dried nettle in 5 gallons of water for 48 hours, then use the tea to water your garden. You could also top dress plants with the dried nettle as well, however, you may have other plants around your house that can be used in the same way such as comfrey, dandelion, borage, yarrow, and horsetail (which can all be used to make fermented tea, botanical tea with dried plant material, or top dressed on top of soil) to name a few. Hope that helps and good luck!
Hi, there. I understand that stinging nettle can be used to fight aphid infestations and to boost plant immune systems in general. Would all the other plants you mention do the same? I live in the high desert where it cannbe hard to grow many plants…if dandelion would work, that may be my only option.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Zendegy, yes you can do the same thing with dandelion, it is a dynamic accumulator and the leaves are rich in nutrients. Fermented dandelion tea should work great around the garden, good luck and have fun growing!
Hello! 🙂 Could dried nettle be used instead of fresh?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Kasia, if you have dried nettle, I would just mix up a small batch at a time that you could use the entire tea in one watering. Maybe start off with 1/8th cup dried nettle, steep or aerate in 5 gallons of water for 48 hours and then use the tea to water your plants. You could always increase the amount with time once you see how your plants respond to it. Making the fermented nettle tea is a great way to preserve a large amount of fresh nettle that can go bad quickly, whereas yours is already dried so there is not as much need to further preserve it in a concentrated liquid. Hope that help and good luck!
i make a nettle tea using some stinging some other various weeds i can find (not when they’ve gone to seed obviously) and combine it with my liquid seaweed feed. My plants took off, highly recommend and a great way to “compost” some of the weeds on the property. Confirmed, the stink is unreal though.
I don’t get any nettles growing in my yard, but I do get yarrow, wild lettuce, occasional dandelion, a teeny-tiny type of wood sorrel, and LOTS of horsetail. You mention yarrow is a dynamic accumulator, but I don’t really want to pull it as it’s working great as an alternative lawn/groundcover. Any chance horsetail is a dynamic accumulator? I wouldn’t mind pulling all of that. Thanks!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Heather, it sounds like you have a lot of dynamic accumulators growing in your yard! Horsetail would make a fantastic fermented tea that can be made and used the same way we describe in this article. Horsetail contains a lot of silica and is used to control fungal disease if used as a foliar spray and works well used in a soil drench too. Have fun making your tea and your garden should enjoy it as well.
Hi, one more question. I went out to check and stir it this morning and notices that the white bubbly foam has almost disappeared. its only been about 4 days. Is this normal? Thanks.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Josh, the fermentation time may have went a bit quicker depending on how warm it is in your location. If it stops bubbling, the process is likely complete and can be strained into a separate bucket. However, it won’t hurt if you let it sit out for a few more days just to play it safe. Hope that helps and good luck!