Dead Nettle

Red Dead Nettle
aka, Purple Dead-nettle
or, Red Henbit
or, Red Archangel
(Lamium purpureum)

"Unmake & remake me. That star
And that flower & that flower
And living mouth & living mouth all
One smouldering annihilation."

-The Green Wolf,
by Ted Hughes

Lamium purpureum or Red Dead Nettle is a European wildflower or weed that was for some while an old garden standard for its bronzy-purple foliage & smallish purple flowers. In all areas across North America where it was successfully gardenable, it escaped to roadsides & is in some places ubiquitous.

LamiumThis stuff that has naturalized all over our neighborhood & a particularly large patch has taken over an area across the street from us, so dense no other weeds grow there. More often, though, it shares ground willingly, & is itself easily squeezed out of a spot by larger weeds.

It's not widely regarded as a worrisome pest-plant, however, & no need to get crabby with neighbors who do nothing to get rid of it. I enjoy seeing it on the fringes of properties other than my own.

When it crops up without invitation in my gardens I treat it as a weed, but don't regard it as harmful or annoying. It's shallowly rooted so pulls easily, & occasionally I allow a patch to remain where it is while it's in its best phase in spring, pulling it out only when it goes a mite ugly in summer. It attracts bees & butterflies, so in balance, it's more beneficial than not.

Although it is an annual, it self-sews in place so reliably that once a patch is established, it will always return thick as ever unless efforts are made to remove it.

A young densely carpeted & healthy colony during spring & early summer is a beautiful thing, flowering as early as March.

But if it is growing in too damp, too hot, or too shady a location, it is apt to fall prey to powdery mildew, & at summer's height it'll start to look dreadful in any case as it does not go to seed pleasantly & will partially die back in a homely way.

It is apt to have a second flush of fresh growth when summer heat is finished, reflowering in autumn. Even while it's in its prime, a hard rain can mash it down & spoil its looks.

So though it was eagerly gardened by our forefathers, is is today regarded merely a weed. Many cultivated forms of finer & perennial species of Lamium have larger flowers, more colorful leaves, & are not apt to naturalize all over the countryside.

The common name Dead Nettle, & variants like Dumb Nettle, Blind Nettle, or Deaf Nettle, all allude to its resemblence to stinging nettles, but the sting is dead, dumb, or blind, because it has no sting. Even its less often heard name of Red Henbit or Purple Hen's Bite is an allusion to a sting it does not possess.

As a small member of the mint family, square-stemmed like mints, one might wish it were, like so many mints, harvestable for tea or salads. Alas, even though it can be a harmless addition to salads, it has no flavor of great interest, & makes a mediocre potherb. Still, try it if you'd like, the upper leaves are tenderest & best, & the flowers are also edible.

Claims of medicinal properties when used as tea or tonic appear to be without basis in fact, & is merely a belief inherited from true mints. Belief nevertheless persists that it is useful for minor respiratory problems, as an external treatment for cuts or bruises, & a few other uses that never exceed the equal value of placebo.

It has a more credible value as an astringent. And an oil derived from its seeds is rich in antioxidants & it is not impossible it could have a commercial value as a food additive, though it is not at present so used.

Continue to:
Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy'


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