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All Things Garden,  Compost

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!


A birds eye view of a swath of stinging nettles, they are green with jagged edged leaves.


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 stinging nettle growing in the chicken run is shown, there are two chickens on the far side of the nettle with their coop in the background.
Every spring, a ton of stinging nettle pops up in and around our chicken run! Thankfully, the girls mostly free range elsewhere but don’t seem bothered by it until we get a chance to harvest.


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.


A glass measuring beaker full of dilute stinging nettle fertilizer tea. It has been diluted to one part fertilizer to ten parts water for feeding plants through a soil drench. The tea is a light green color once it has been diluted. There are green and red cabbages growing in a raised bed in the background.



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




INSTRUCTIONS 


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


  1. 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!

  2. In the bucket, chop the nettle into smaller pieces. Finer pieces equals more surface area for fermentation and the release of nutrients. 

  3. Add enough water to cover the nettle in the bucket. It should be able to stir freely and not be overly thick. 

  4. Set the lid on top of the bucket, but don’t seal it. 

  5. Stir the brewing nettle tea once per day if possible. Bubbles should appear as you stir it.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Use brewed nettle tea fertilizer within about 6 months.


A four part image collage showing how to prepare stinging nettle when one is going to make stinging nettle fertilizer. The first image shows two gloved hands as they cut sections of growing stinging nettle out with hand trimmers. The second image shows the stinging nettle inside of a bucket and a hedger is chopping the nettle up into smaller pieces to increase its surface area. The third image shows a bucket of water being poured over the top of the bucket of harvested stinging nettle. The fourth image shows a bucket full of harvested stinging nettle and water with a stir stick being used to mix it around.
Harvest, chop, steep, stir.
A four part image collage on how one strains stinging nettle fertilizer once it has finished fermenting. The first image shows a closeup of the bucket of stinging nettle after a couple days of fermenting. There are still a lot of bubbles and activity within the bucket. The second image shows the bucket of stinging nettle after the fermentation process has stopped, there are no bubbles and the activity has ceased. The third image shows a bucket of stinging nettle fertilizer next to an empty bucket, a hand is holding a paint strainer and a funnel. The fourth image shows the empty bucket with a lid that contains a hole in the top. The funnel is lined with the paint strainer and they are both sitting inside of the hole on the top of the lid, sitting over the empty bucket while the bucket of stinging nettle fertilizer is being poured through the strainer and funnel into the empty bucket.
Still bubbling? Keep brewing. Once it stops bubbling, it is time to strain (about 1-2 weeks after creating the tea).


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.


A hand is holding a beaker of dilute stinging nettle fertilizer tea and watering two auto flowering cannabis plants that are growing in a 10 gallon fabric pot.


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.


Aaron is crouched down in the chicken run after harvesting a bucketful of stinging nettle. The plants have been reduced in size and numbers after the harvest though many should still continue to grow.
He cleaned up the run pretty well! He also chose to leave the roots in place, so the nettles will sprout again for another harvest this season. In case you’re wondering, those are our rainwater tanks on the right – perfect for making nettle tea and other compost brews! You can read more about rainwater collection basics here.


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.



DeannaCat signature, keep on growing

11 Comments

  • `joshua

    Heya,

    Thanks for this little tutorial. Its great! I have been making nettle tea for sometime now, but one thing that had been missed for me was that certain plants during their fruiting period.

    thank you for this article…is there any plants you would suggest to avoid entirely with nettle?

    Warm thanks

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Glad you enjoyed the article! I would personally avoid using it on beans, peas, onions, and root vegetables since they are all light feeders.

  • Danny

    Just stumbled across your site yesterday, and I love it. Thanks for all the info. One other aspect of nettle that I didn’t see you mention is that it is a source of silica. In his book, “The Holistic Orchard,” Michael Phillips says that silica levels skyrocket when the plant begins setting seed. Thought you might be especially interested in the silica content of nettle as I saw in another article that you use silica on your plants and mentioned horsetail as another potential source. Keep up the good work!

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Danny! Welcome, and thanks for the comment! Yes, that is absolutely another huge benefit that I forgot to mention! Thanks for bringing it up – I will make an edit when I get a chance. Happy growing!

  • Alisa

    Woah sorry for the delay! By infusion I just meant in the herbalist sense, like a really strong tea. Was wondering if the fermentation process itself was crucial or if you just brewed a big stock pot worth of strong nettle tea would that work just as well? I’m assuming the fermentation process is important or you would bother with the smell, time, etc. but just wasn’t sure why. Thanks for all your help!!!

  • Dfarm

    I’ve been waiting for this tutorial since you storied about finding the nettles in your chicken run. We have tons of “stinging grass” as we call it and I’m going to give this a try. Thank you so much!

  • Alisa

    Thank you for the tutorial! Can you explain why it needs to be fermented? Would it be useful just as a strong infusion or no?

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Alisa, the process of infusing it over a period of time does ferment it – so it is essentially the same thing! Some folks take it a step further and add a sugar source (like brown sugar) to feed the bacteria and create a super microbe-rich fermented plant juice, but what we’re doing here is more of a simple and passive fermentation process. The bubbling indicates that it is fermenting, and while that is happening, the plant material is breaking down to release its goodies into the water (infusing, as you said). Does that make sense?

      • goarilla

        The bubbling can also indicate you have soap in your water or your organic sources have high degrees of saponins. Which Nettle does have.

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