Plant: Lamium purpureum, Purple Dead-Nettle
Have you heard the song “Purple People Eater?” We felt like this was an appropriate title for this plant because it’s scientific name translates in Greek to “the devouring purple monster.” Although it certainly doesn’t sound all that appealing to eat, purple dead-nettle, also known as red dead-nettle or purple archangel is an excellent wild weed to add to your salad. It grows in abundance and can be found in many fields along the Appalachian Trail. You have probably seen it in your yard or when going for a walk in the park. Although it is native to Europe and Asia, it grows everywhere throughout the United States!
We made salads with it, put it in pita bread, along with chickweed, dandelions, and a little balsamic vinegar, and we cooked it to add to our mashed potatoes.
Just a Few of Purple Dead-Nettle’s Benefits:
1. It is an aggressively fast growing weed! While most people would not consider this to be a beneficial thing, we foragers love finding plants that grow like wildfire. You can pick as much as you’d like for your salad and you can be assured the plant will come back quickly and in abundance. It can sometimes grow in large patches, which makes it super easy to grab a nice bunch for a healthy brunch!
2. It’s a superfood! If you’ve read about some of the other plants we found on the Appalachian Trail, you will notice a pattern that all of them have unique benefits and have high nutrient contents. Domesticated fruits and vegetables have been grown and designed for many generations to appeal to consumers for their sweetness, size, and hardiness. Wild foods may not always be as tasty as some foods that have been cultivated, but they make up for it with their dense nutritional value.
3. Add it to your first aid kit! Due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and astringent properties, purple dead-nettle can be used topically to stop bleeding and treat external cuts or wounds. The plant’s Vitamin C content and flavonoids then team up to fight infection and boost the immune system.
4. It may be your new best friend when allergy season comes around! Looking for a healthy vegan alternative to all of the sh*tty and expensive allergy remedies on the market? Though research has not yet confirmed why dead-nettle is effective in reducing allergy symptoms, it couldn’t hurt to give purple dead-nettle a try. It is known to work well for allergies, as well as protecting allergy sufferers from secondary infections, and it’s free when you find it on the ground!
5. It is a bee’s best friend! You may be wondering why the fact that bees love purple dead-nettle is beneficial to us foragers…Well, anything that make bees happy should make us happy, because without bees, there would be no one to pollinate plants and all life on Earth would be in peril. We’re serious–click here to read about the extreme importance of bees.
Warnings: When foraging purple dead-nettle, be sure to try a small amount at first. Also, be sure you are absolutely sure you have properly identified the plant before putting it in your mouth! Fortunately, purple dead-nettle does not have any toxic lookalikes.
Edible Parts of Purple Dead-Nettle: The entire plant
How to Eat Purple Dead-Nettle: The plant can be eaten raw or cooked. You can also dry the leaves and flowers to make tea.
Taste to Expect: It has a very mild bitter and peppery flavor. It’s kind of grassy, herby, and maybe a tiny bit sweet. It wasn’t the tastiest thing we had on trail, but as Doctor Michael Klaper says, “Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.”
Where to Find Purple Dead-Nettle: You can find purple dead-nettle in meadows, fields, grassy areas, along roadsides (we wouldn’t recommend eating purple dead-nettle growing next to sources of pollution or where there may be pesticides), and in gardens. It is very common and easy to find!
When to Find Purple Dead-Nettle: Early spring to fall
Things to Consider When Foraging:
1. Forage responsibly. Please do not trample on plants and try to remain on trail when foraging purple dead-nettle.
2. Do NOT eat purple dead-nettle unless you are absolutely sure it is purple dead-nettle! Eat small amounts until you know how you’re body will react to a new wild food.
3. Do not eat purple dead-nettle that has been contaminated with vehicle fumes or pesticides.
Identification: Purple dead-nettle has a four-sided square stem. The fuzzy green leaves do not have stinging hairs and are safe to touch. The tops are purple with little pink flowers. It has been confused with Lamium amplexicaule, commonly known as henbit dead-nettle, but fortunately, this plant is edible as well!