Stinging Nettle: Crop Overview
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Connie Chojnacki
Posted on: February 02, 2005

We are growing stinging nettle that has volunteered itself on our WV hollow farm. I know it is very nutritious but my question is who would buy it and when should it be harvested? Also what is it worth?

I have included some previous information on Nettle, from my book "Native Plants of Commercial Importance". I wrote this 1988, but only prices have really changed since that period, while volumes and uses have pretty much remained the same. I think the primary user in North America is now Revlon.

They only purchase Nettle as an oil extract (European sources), but they use it in a variety of formulas. This means most Regional Wholesales will also purchase smaller quantities for cottage industries and home use. It is used extensively in Europe for this purpose, so there will be a continuing growth for its domestic production.

As a final word, I would suggest getting your Nettle certified organic (3 year process). This will absolutely guarantee a market niche with Aubrey and other cosmetic companies who would like to market in Whole Foods (and other COG markets).

-- 2004 Nettle Leaf Crop Overview --

Crop: Nettle (Urtica dioica L.)

No known subspecies or cultivars.

World Market: 4,000 acres

North American Market: 600 acres

Prices (USD/lb.) (all prices are exclusive of freight):

* Leaves: i) dried $1.60/lb.; ii) fresh [no price reported but is known to be sold as fresh product to some buyers]; iii) organic; $2.00/lb.

* Roots: i) dried $2.60/lb., ii) fresh [known to be sold, but no price reported]; iii) organic $2.90/lb.

* Herb: i) dried (if harvested early can be sold as Leaf) [no price reported]; ii) fresh [no price reported]; iii) organic [no price reported].

Harvesting:

Nettle should be harvested before the plant goes into the flowering stage. When young, the stems are still green saplings and can be cut as an herb. If the plant stems begin to for a "bark," they are worthless. The green saplings can be cut twice during a season (similar to catnip).

An average forager can harvest well in excess of 1,000 pounds wet material in one day, presuming the location of good stands. It has about a 50% weight loss, so it is considered an excellent crop for foraging. When stands can be found with more than 4 acres of flat terrain, it can be machine-harvested for really excellent profits.

Some of the larger recreational parks will actually harvest nettle before the park is open to the public. To protect campers, the crop is usually burned. They can be taken for no cost, just for removing them from the park. By paying the Parks Department the standard $0.01 per pound, both you and the agency benefit. Once the crop has been dried, it can be hand-fed into a baler (or combine) and sold.

For situations where nettle wants to be sun-cured, the crop needs to be turned often to prevent browning the leaf. Some companies will even accept the herb in baled form, if dried properly. A large sickle or scythe can be used, especially automated versions (like brush hogs). First cuttings can begin as early as May, and then again in August.

Europe imports only leaf, rather than herb. If the company you wish to service requires leaf only, the sun-cured herb can be processed with an edible bean-harvester type of combine, similar to those used for peppermint leaf production.

Bean harvesters are used because they have a conveyor to the hopper, rather than an auger (which tends to fragment the leaf into powder. I especially like the older models of New Holland combines. These have control of widening the knives and lowering air speed. Both are important for producing a larger leaf-part.

If leaf is sought from the harvest, then it is best to let the stem form a bark. This allows for easier drying and separation of the leaf with a combine-type action. If herb is sought, then a medium condition is required on the stem to have it dry uniformly, herbaceous-stem and leaf.

Burlap or polypropylene bags are used for leaf material, and good storage requires a heated warehouse, free of insects and rodents. Remember, when harvesting leaf, you can get only one harvest from the source. Two cutting are available, however, when putting it up as a hay-type crop.

Reforestation:

Since nettle grows from a rhizome, cutting it only stimulates further growth. As a point to remember with most rhizomes, if it is left to go to flower, there is usually a 60% loss of rootstock while seed is produced. This is one reason why it wants to be cut before flower formation. The stem is also more marketable at this stage.

It should be remembered that in most states, nettle is considered a noxious weed. As such, many communities might object to its cultivation for machine harvesting. Special permits may be required and you are recommended to consult your local County Extension office for details.

Regions like New York and Michigan could probably cultivate this as a cash crop. Yields are estimated now at more than 3 ton per acre (dry weight) on two cuttings.

Marketing:

The price variation on nettle herb can range from $0.45 per pound to tonnage to more than $1.30 per pound in C/S forms of 100# quantities. Leaf enters the Port of New York at $0.65/# and markets from $0.85/#.

Most regional herb companies buy more than 4,000 pounds annually, with larger wholesalers wanting to buy 5-ton quantities. Nettle is used in food, drug, and cosmetic industries. Most all of it is now imported from either Germany or Soviet Bloc countries like Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.

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