It is Spring and a carpet of Purple Dead-Nettle is covering my garden. Even though I had put the raised vegetable garden to bed and tucked it in with straw this particular weed decidedly took over. These Dead heads not only look like a weed, they smell like one too. And unlike the followers of a particular psychedelic rock band there is nothing distinctive about this plant that would indicate it might be edible, useful or medicinal. While I was never a Dead Head I do march to the beat of a slightly different drummer, and just because I harvest, juice and infuse what most people think of as useless weeds it doesn’t mean I’m tripping or that I smell bad, but it does mean that I’m ahead of my time, so to speak, meaning ahead of allergy season.
Introduced from Europe and listed as an invasive species in some parts of North America it can frequently be found growing alongside Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule.) Both have similar leaves and bright purple flowers, but the difference between the two can be seen in the leaves. Purple Dead-nettle’s leaves are stalked on the flower stem compared to the un-stalked leaves of Henbit Dead-nettle, L. amplexicaule. Amplexicaule means “clasping” and refers to how the leaves grab the stem.
If you were called to inspect this plant more closely you would find that it has a square stem typical of the mints but the smell would never let on that it is in the mint family. It smells more like earth and grass with the flowering tops and leaves being edible. The harvested young aerial parts can be finely chopped and used in sauces, salads or as a spring vegetable and while it may be nutritious it has no flavor of great interest. It is one of the first plants to flower in the southeast where I live and may continue flowering throughout the year even during the milder winter months providing a food source to bees (and humans!) when few other nectar sources are available.
Purple Dead-nettle has long been used in folk medicine in Europe, Asia and Africa and unlike stinging nettles (Urtica) it has no sting and is therefore considered, “dead.” There is evidence of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and free radical scavenging properties comparable to that of ascorbic acid. It can be used fresh or dried and made into a tea or tincture for allergic inflammation. A natural source of flavonoids including quercetin Purple Dead-nettle can improve immune system performance while reducing sensitivity to allergens and inhibiting inflammation. The anti-allergy properties of flavonoids come from their ability to reduce the release of histamine. Research has shown that L. purpureum is significantly anti-inflammatory with pain-reducing properties and works through inhibiting the release of prostaglandins, the principle mediator for inflammation in allergies and chronic inflammatory conditions. This is good news for allergy sufferers (see recommendations below.) The whole plant has also been used to relieve pain in rheumatism and other arthritic ailments. A rich source of antibacterial essential oils Purple Dead-nettle has a wide range of antimicrobial activity and antifungal properties, which may be useful for staph, E. coli and candida.
Never before has one weed so thoroughly taken over my garden. It definitely had my attention. Previously L. purpureum was only vaguely familiar to me, as I had seen it on my daily walks growing along the roadside. It was so far off my radar as a medicinal plant that I had trouble remembering what it was. My apprentice had pointed it out to me before and one day on a walk together I felt totally incompetent asking her – what is that plant again? In my defense it is indeed rather obscure in the herbal literature. There is still so much we don’t know, but I do know that our medicine is never any further than where we are right now.
Taking Purple Dead-nettle when you suffer from allergies will help prevent secondary infections of the sinus, throat and lower respiratory tract. There are no known contraindications. Purple Dead-nettle’s actions have not been extensively researched and documented but may include: anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, antifungal and purgative. Collect entire above ground, aerial parts for food and medicine.
Tincture: 1-2 ml 3x/day (1:5 in 40%)
Infusion: 1 cup boiling water over 1 heaping teaspoon dried herb and infuse covered for 10 minutes. Strain and drink as often as desired. To use as a daily tonic for chronic conditions put 1 oz. dried herb in a quart jar, or 1/3 jar filled with chopped fresh herb, fill with boiling water and cover. Let stand for 3-4 hours and drink one quart per day just prior to and at the start of allergy season.
All content except where otherwise noted © 2016 Thea Summer Deer
- Hacettepe University Journal of the Faculty of Pharmacy; Antimicrobial and Free Radical Scavenging Activities of Some Lamium Species from Turkey; Funda Nuray Yalçin, et al.; 2007
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology; In vivo Anti-inflammatory and Antinociceptive Actions of Some Lamium Species; Akkol EK, et al.; 2008