What can you do with purple dead nettle?

Purple dead nettle, also known as Lamium purpureum, is a common weed that grows in many lawns and gardens. While it may seem like nothing more than an annoyance to some gardeners, this plant actually has many uses. From culinary and medicinal applications to crafts and dyes, purple dead nettle is a versatile plant that should not go to waste.

Edible Uses

The young leaves of purple dead nettle can be eaten raw in salads or cooked as a pot herb. The leaves have a mild, spinach-like flavor. Both the leaves and flowers are edible and provide nutrients like vitamin C, beta carotene, iron, and calcium.

Some people use purple dead nettle as a potherb, meaning it is boiled like spinach and used as a cooked green. It can also be blanched, steamed, or added to soups and stews. The flowers make a pretty, vibrant garnish. This plant has been used as a food source since the Bronze Age.

Purple dead nettle can be substituted for spinach in many recipes. It works well in dishes like lasagna, omelets, pasta, casseroles, pesto, quiche, frittatas, and more. The leaves also make a nutritious addition to smoothies or green juices.

Tea can be made from the leaves of this plant. Steep fresh or dried leaves in hot water for a mildly flavored, antioxidant-rich tea. The tea has a slightly minty, aromatic taste.

In foraging, purple dead nettle is known as a famine food, meaning it can provide nutrition in times of scarcity. While not as flavorful as cultivated greens, it serves as a free, edible alternative that grows abundantly in the wild.

Medicinal Applications

Purple dead nettle has many traditional medicinal uses that come from its anti-inflammatory and astringent properties. It can be consumed as a tea, tincture, or skin wash.

As an herbal tea, purple dead nettle may help treat coughs, bronchitis, sore throat, and congestion. It is also used to ease gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and hemorrhoids.

Topically, the leaves can be crushed and applied to the skin as an astringent. A purple dead nettle infused oil, salve, or compress may help wounds, burns, eczema, insect bites, acne, and more. The plant’s anti-inflammatory actions can aid these conditions.

Some herbalists use purple dead nettle as a muscle relaxant and circulatory stimulant. It is also said to help stop bleeding and promote kidney function and urine flow.

Always consult a medical professional before using any herb medicinally. Do not self-prescribe this or any plant as medicine.


The vibrant purple flowers make purple dead nettle a great choice for cut flower arrangements and other craft projects. The stems are squarish, allowing them to float nicely in vases.

Some ideas for using purple dead nettle include:

  • Fresh or dried flower bouquets
  • Flower crowns and leis
  • Flower garlands
  • Pressed flowers
  • Candied flowers
  • Potpourri
  • Soaps or bath products

The colorful blooms add a pop of color to any DIY, art, or craft project. Children may enjoy making projects with them or picking the cheerful flowers for Mother’s Day.

Natural Dye

Purple dead nettle can be used to make a natural purple dye. Historically, the plant was used as a dye for clothing and wool. The stems, leaves, and flowers all produce dye, though the flowers offer the deepest purple color.

To make the dye:

  1. Chop and crush fresh purple dead nettle parts
  2. Add to a pot of boiling water
  3. Simmer for 30-60 minutes until the desired depth of color is reached
  4. Strain out the plant material
  5. Add your pre-soaked yarn, fabric, or other fiber
  6. Simmer for 15-60 minutes until dyed

The more plant matter used, the darker the dye will be. A mordant like alum can help fix the dye. Always use caution and proper equipment when dying with hot water to avoid burns or other injuries.

This eco-friendly craft is a great way to avoid synthetic dyes. Children may also enjoy using the flowers as “nature paint” to dye fabric or paper.

Pest Control

Purple dead nettle can be used as a companion plant to help deter garden pests. Planting it around vegetable gardens may help reduce damage from insects like aphids, Japanese beetles, and moth larvae.

It is thought that the scent of purple dead nettle confuses these insects and masks the smell of enticing plants like cabbage, broccoli, and kale. The fuzzy leaves may also deter pests from landing and laying eggs.

In addition, purple dead nettle attracts predatory insects that eat pest species. Beneficial visitors include ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps. Planting purple dead nettle can help draw these predators in to control pests.

While companion planting with purple dead nettle is not a complete solution for pest control, it may be a helpful deterrent to use in an integrated pest management strategy.

Other Uses

Some other potential uses for purple dead nettle include:

  • Ground cover – It spreads to form a mat and suppresses weeds
  • Nectar plant for bees and pollinators
  • Chicken or livestock forage
  • Pet food supplement – Use dried leaves
  • Compost and mulch – High in nutrients
  • Bioaccumulator – Absorbs heavy metals from soil

This common weed has many benefits despite being despised by some. With its many edible, medicinal, and practical uses, purple dead nettle is a valuable free resource.


Proper identification is crucial when foraging or using any wild plant. Here are tips for identifying purple dead nettle:

  • Grows low to the ground in a mat or clump
  • Stems are squarish, not rounded
  • Leaves are triangular, toothed, fuzzy, and grow opposite each other on stems
  • Flowers emerge in early spring, are tube-shaped, and pinkish-purple
  • Flowers grow in rings around the stem at leaf joints
  • No scent

Purple dead nettle is often confused with henbit, another edible, purple-flowered lawn weed. However, henbit has rounded stems and a more sprawling habit.

Young leaves are the most palatable for eating. Only harvest from areas you know are chemical-free.

Where to Find Purple Dead Nettle

This plant grows in a wide range of habitats, including:

  • Lawns
  • Gardens
  • Disturbed soils
  • Roadsides
  • Trail edges
  • Vacant lots
  • Around old homesites
  • Partially shaded woodland edges

Purple dead nettle thrives in moist, nutrient-rich soils in sunny to partly shaded locations. It spreads readily by seed and its creeping roots. Forage it in safe areas away from pollution, chemicals, and dogs.

When to Harvest

Here are guidelines for when to harvest purple dead nettle:

  • Leaves – Spring before flowers emerge. Older leaves toughen.
  • Flowers – Pick in early spring when blooming.
  • Stems – Spring through fall.
  • Roots – Best in fall but can be gathered year-round.

For leaves, choose young, tender ones and avoid over-mature plants. The pretty flowers and useful stems can be harvested while vibrantly purple.

How to Use Purple Dead Nettle

Here is a quick overview of using purple dead nettle:

Edible Uses

  • Eat leaves raw or cooked.
  • Add young leaves to salads, smoothies, pesto.
  • Cook leaves like spinach.
  • Infuse flowers or leaves as tea.
  • Use as potherb, stewed or boiled greens.
  • Garnish dishes with flowers.

Medicinal Uses

  • Purple dead nettle tea for coughs, sore throat.
  • Tincture for internal use.
  • Infused oil or poultice for skin irritation.
  • Always consult a medical professional before using medicinally.

Craft Uses

  • Cut flowers for bouquets, pressing, etc.
  • Candied flowers for cake decorating.
  • Natural purple dye from leaves and flowers.

Other Uses

  • Companion plant to deter garden pests.
  • Ground cover or green mulch.
  • Chicken or livestock forage.


While edible and beneficial, purple dead nettle does have some cautions:

  • May cause allergic reactions in some – try a small amount first
  • Avoid areas potentially sprayed with chemicals
  • Never harvest plants from potentially polluted sites
  • Only use for medicinal purposes under professional guidance
  • Wash plants and hands thoroughly after harvesting
  • Do not take while pregnant or breastfeeding without doctor approval

Introduce new wild edibles slowly to watch for any sensitivities or reactions. While generally safe, natural plants can cause harm if misused.


Rather than being a useless weed, purple dead nettle is actually a beneficial wild plant with many potential uses. From the edible leaves, medicinal properties, and cheery flowers, this common lawn inhabitant has much to offer. With proper identification and care, purple dead nettle can be a versatile addition to gardens, meals, apothecaries, and craft projects.

Leave a Comment