This plant is ubiquitous in Scotland, forming dense patches in hedgebanks, woods, grassy areas, and disturbed ground, especially near buildings.
It has coarsely-serrated leaves. Both leaves and stems are usually covered in hollow stinging hairs, or trichomes, which break easily when touched, injecting several chemicals including formic acid and histamine into humans and animals. This combination of chemicals induces a stinging or burning sensation.
There are at least 6 identified sub-species of Urtica dioica, only 5 of which sting: the fen, or stingless nettle, being the anomaly.
The flowers are tiny, greenish or brownish, or sometimes pink, and hang in tassels between the angles of the upper leaves.
Urtica dioica has long been used as a food source and medicinal herb. It is effective as a laxative and diuretic, and has been used to relieve the symptoms of gout and arthritis. The leaves and stems have a high concentration of Vitamin K, along with Vitamins A, C and B2.
Among the Highlanders persists an old belief that nettles grow from the bodies of the dead.