Foraging for Purple Dead Nettle

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Purple dead nettle is an incredible little wild edible plant that is a great starter plant for beginner foragers! Let’s jump right into everything you need to know about foraging for purple dead nettle!

Foraging Purple Dead Nettle

Common Name: Purple Dead Nettle, Red Dead Nettle, Purple Archangel

Botanical Name: Lamium purpureum

Purple Dead Nettle gets its name from its purple tops and the fact that it does not have the stinging properties of true nettles (therefore, it is “dead”). The whole plant is edible and medicinal so let’s chat about how to find it and how to put it to use…

When and Where to Forage Purple Dead Nettle

Purple Dead Nettle is an invasive species that pops up in early spring and hangs out for the entire season. This low growing plant can be found all throughout North America on roadsides, in garden beds, and spread throughout lawns & fields.

Woman holding a mason jar filled with purple dead nettle and dandelion

How to Identify Purple Dead Nettle

Purple dead nettle is most commonly identified by its green leaves that fade into purple at the top of the plant. When it blooms, it has little purple / pink flowers at the top as well. 

This plant is a member of the mint family so it has common mint characteristics such as a square stem and leaves with a triangular shape.

Patch of purple dead nettle
You can see ground ivy and henbit mixed in with this patch of purple dead nettle.

Purple Dead Nettle Look Alikes:

Thankfully, there are no toxic look alikes for Purple Dead Nettle. However, there are a few different plants that could potentially be mistaken for this wild edible by new foragers.

>>Read more about Wild Edible Lookalikes here<<

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

This plant has similar purple flowers, but once you familiarize yourself with the two plants they are easy to distinguish from one another. 

While Purple Dead Nettle leaves are triangular in shape and have a purple tint, henbit leaves are heart shaped and scalloped around the edges with no purple tint. It sometimes looks like the leaves are circling around the stem. 

A closeup photo of henbit

The stems of each of these plants are square (since they are both in the mint family), but henbit stems are red.

The flowers of these two wild edibles are extremely similar, although henbit flowers tend to grow longer, so it is best to ID using the leaves and stems..

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

Stinging nettle can be mistaken for purple dead nettle because the young leaves look similar before flowering. After flowering, the stinging nettle leaves are longer and thinner.

The leaves of Purple Dead Nettle and Stinging Nettle are hairy, but stinging nettle leaves tend to be hairier. The stems of Stinging Nettle are also hairy.

a closeup photo of stinging nettle

Stinging nettle leaves also tend to be more sharply serrated around the edges than Purple Dead Nettle.

Stinging Nettle is not a part of the mint family, so the stems are not square like Dead Nettle.

If you are unsure if the plant you are looking at is Stinging Nettle or Dead Nettle, brush the back of your hand across it gently. You will feel stings if it is stinging nettle. These stings are usually mild, but they can affect each person differently so take care when touching this plant.

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

Ground ivy, also known as Creeping Charlie and Gills-over-the-ground, can be mistaken for purple dead nettle when it is flowering because the flowers of both plants are light purple and similarly shaped. 

A closeup photo of ground ivy

This plant creeps along the ground unlike dead nettle which grows straight up along a stem. It is a member of the mint family so its stem is square.

Ground ivy has kidney shaped scalloped leaves in contrast to Dead Nettle’s triangular shaped serrated leaves.

Red Maple Seedling (Acer rubrum)

I have noticed this season that I have a lot of red maple seedlings popping up around my property. While these little trees do not have many similarities to the purple dead nettle plant, the coloration of the leaves and stem are similar.

Red maple seedling with top leaves faded red

>>Use a plant ID app like PictureThis to help with positive identification.<<

Purple Dead Nettle Benefits:

  • Purple Dead Nettle is an amazing plant for seasonal allergy sufferers. It is known for helping to calm seasonal allergies due to the Quercetin flavonoids that provide antihistamine properties to the plant.
  • The Quercetin flavonoids also provide anti-inflammatory properties and work to boost the immune system.
  • Purple Dead Nettle is high in Vitamin C, A, K, fiber, and iron.
  • This plant serves as an antioxidant and it helps the body to fight free radicals.
  • PDN has strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
  • Dead Nettle works to support kidney function.
  • Use this plant sparingly in culinary dishes and teas because it also has a mild laxative effect.
  • Purple Dead Nettle is also an important plant for honey bees and bumblebees. This plant is one of the first to bloom in the spring so it is one of the first food sources that the bees get to collect for the year. 

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This is for informational purposes only, this is not diagnosis or treatment and always check with your medical professional of choice before using anything medicinally.

Young girl foraging purple dead nettle from yard

How to Use Purple Dead Nettle:

Purple Dead Nettle Leaf Tea

Make a simple dead nettle leaf tea to relieve allergy symptoms. You can air-dry dead nettle to use year round.

Purple Dead Nettle Infused Oil

Make this herbal infused olive oil the same way that you would make violet leaf infused oil.

Purple Dead Nettle Salve

Mix the Dead Nettle infused oil with beeswax and essential oils to make a healing and calming salve. You can even render your own beeswax for this salve!

Wound Poultice

Crush & mash the leaves in with water or chew up the leaves and then apply them to the external wound.

Purple Dead Nettle Tincture

Make a nettle tincture using 90 proof alcohol.

Purple Dead Nettle Natural Dye for Wool

Purple Dead Nettle makes a beautiful green natural wool dye!

How to Eat Purple Dead Nettle:

  • Purple Dead Nettle can be eaten raw in spring salads. Mix with other wild greens for the best taste.
  • Wild green pesto can be made with Purple Dead Nettle leaves along with dandelion leaves.
  • Dried leaves can be sprinkled over dishes or added to baked goods.
Closeup of purple dead nettle

Foraging & Herbalism Courses and Books

To learn more about wild foraging and herbalism, look into these books and courses:

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