Foraging Wild Edibles: Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Purple Dead Nettle or Red Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) is a common plant considered by most people to be only a weed.  But recently I’ve been reading up on foraging and wild edibles and discovered that it’s edible, has medicinal properties, and is an important source of food for bees in early spring.

purple dead nettles

[The purple dead nettles are the taller plants with small pinkish flowers in the picture.  Henbit and chickweed can also be found in the picture]

Disclaimer:  All of the following information about the identification and use of this plant is accurate to the best of my knowledge.  With that being said, only attempt to harvest and eat wild plants that you can identify with 100% accuracy.  Buy a field guide or 2 on foraging for wild plants to learn to identify them at all stages.  Cross-reference information and photos of plants with different sources.  Know if there are any similar looking plants that might be poisonous.  Before consuming a wild plant for the first time, eat only a small portion in case you are allergic.

General Characteristics

Purple dead nettle is a short lived annual in the mint family (Lamiaceae ).  Usually growing no larger than 1ft in height, it has squared stems (characteristic of mint family) and soft fuzzy leaves  with a opposite leaf arrangement.  Leaves also have a bit of purple in them.  Flowers are pink/purple and very small.

Edible Uses

The leaves, stem, and flowers are all edible.  Purple dead nettle is very nutritious being high in iron, vitamins, and fiber.  It can be eaten raw as a salad green or cooked.  Try boiling in water for 20-30 minutes, drain, and season to taste.  Collect when in flower for fresh eating or for storage by drying.

Medicinal Uses

The entire plant is an astringent, styptic, diaphoretic, diuretic, and purgative.  A decoction can be made to help with hemorrhaging and the freshly bruised leaves can be applied to external cuts.  Make a tea to use as a laxative or tonic by adding 2 tablespoons of fresh or dried herb to 1 cup hot water and steep for 10 minutes.  Strain and drink in 1/2 cup doses.






9 Comments

  1. Reply
    tama matsuoka March 25, 2012

    We think purple deadnettle is great but prefer it lightly cooked (not 20 to 30 minutes) and puree in soup or pasta.

  2. Reply
    Adam May 30, 2012

    I am having trouble finding a way to identifiy these without the flower (pre-flower). It is interesting you said it is in the mint family. The one I found had a cross between mint and garlic when I curshed the leaf and smelled it, (I assumed it was not stinging nettle as I had already come accoss stinging nettle and was stung). From what I can tell, the dead nettle is hairy leafed and the leaf joined straight to the stem. The dead nettle leaf looked more like a cross between garlic mustard and mint as well. It had a thick texture to it, a bit of a sheen to it, the toothed margin is a little more rounded per tooth. The stinging nettle leaf was seperated from the main stem by another stem as part of the leaf and did not have the same sheen to it (I wish I knew the technical terms).

    • Reply
      Kevin May 31, 2012

      @Adam
      I don’t know your location, but here in Kentucky it would be hard to find any purple dead nettle left growing. It is a short lived annual and seems to die out with the increase in spring and summer temperatures. You could at least narrow the plant down to the mint family by identifying whether or not it has a square steam, which is a characteristic of the mint family.

  3. Reply

    [...] On the way over to Acorn, we passed fields that were totally overrun with the small purple wildflower weed below.  It seems to be blooming like crazy this week, and the effect of great masses of it is pretty dramatic.  I did some internet research, and discovered that it is called Purple Dead Nettle (“dead” because, unlike other types of “live” nettles, it has no stinger), and that it is a plentiful wild edible. (http://firstways.com/2011/02/17/purple-dead-nettle-a-weed-good-to-eat/ or http://pathtosustainableliving.com/2012/foraging-wild-edibles-purple-dead-nettle-lamium-purpureum/) [...]

  4. Reply
    John April 9, 2013

    Here in Kentucky, there is an unusual profusion of Dead Nettle this year. Entire meadows are covered with it.

    John
    Louisville KY

  5. Reply
    PJ April 12, 2013

    My yard here in southern IL is full of this stuff!

  6. Reply
    mjazz April 21, 2013

    For some odd reason they have invaded New England and I don’t recall seeing them here before.

  7. Reply
    CCSchey April 27, 2013

    Just wondering why you would decoct this rather than infusing it?

  8. Reply
    sidd July 7, 2013

    It grows as a vine that spreads across the ground. The stem/stalk is square as with all mints, and it smells like dirt. Creeping Charley and Ground Ivy are common names as well. I’ve never tried it cooked but the taste of it raw and its smell doesn’t appeal to me.

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