White dead nettle is a common perennial wildflower with clusters of bright white flowers arriving early in the season.
Unlike the more famous stinging nettle, they don’t have a sting. They have very similar shaped leaves so are easily confused.
The leaves are triangular 3-8 cm long and 2-5cm wide with a rounded base and are covered in soft hairs. The stalk connecting the leaf to the stem (the petiole) can be 5cm long. The leaves grow in pairs on opposite sides of the stem.
The bright white flowers stand out brightly against the green leaves. They grow in whorls all the way around the circumference of the stem.
The plant has a square-shaped stem and the flowers and leaves sprout from the same point on the stem of the plant.
Distribution of White Dead Nettle
White dead nettle is native to Eurasia, from Ireland in the West to Japan in the East. It is common in England, rare in the west, and in north Scotland and introduced in eastern Ireland. Although it is not native to North America it has been introduced there and is widespread.
White dead nettle likes semi shade so can be found in hedgerows and light woodland.
The plants are tolerant of most soil conditions and spread by by rhizomatous stolons. A stolon is a stem that grows from the plant and creeps horizontally along the ground shooting out roots. If the roots find a spot with the right conditions a new plant begins to grow from those roots.
Uses of White Dead Nettle
The young leaves are edible and can be eaten in salads or cooked in the same way as a vegetable.
An tradition states a drop of nectar can be sucked from each of the flowers (mostly done by children).
Bees are attracted to the flowers which are a good source of early nectar and pollen.
Due to the shape of the flower lots of species of long-tongued insects visit the flowers of white dead-nettle, including the red mason bee, white-tailed bumblebee and burnished brass moth.
The caterpillars of the garden tiger and angle shades moths feed on the leaves, as do Green tortoise beetles.
White dead nettle is largely untroubled by diseases or pests.
Once established the plant spreads through stolons. If there is space many new plants are created as the stolon creeps along the ground.