Dead nettle plants have no sting in their tail, and while they are members of the mint family, they also do not smell minty. Despite the odd name, dead nettle is not poisonous and will not harm you. The purple archangel is an alternative name for dead nettle, which sounds far more inviting. So, what is dead nettle, and why should you grow it in your garden?
Dead nettle (Lamium) plants are mint or Lamiaceae plant family members. Not all plants in the mint family have a distinctive minty smell, but they all have square stems. There are more than thirty dead nettle species, with a wide selection of varieties within these different species. Dead nettles’ origins can be traced to Europe, Africa, and Asia, but today they have a global footprint.
Purple dead and spotted dead nettle are two varieties you are very likely to encounter, as they are popular choices of ground covers. These dead nettles are shade-loving plants, so you no longer need bare soil patches in shaded areas.
Dead nettles propagate by seed dispersal and by vegetative growth. This means the stem can grow new roots where they come in contact with soil. As a result, dead nettle can spread easily to cover open patches of the garden but must be trimmed to keep them from getting out of hand.
Dead nettles also attract many pollinators to your garden. In regions with mild winters, dead nettles flower all year round. Dead nettles provide nectar for insects with long proboscises, like bumble bees and butterflies. Dead nettle flowers are also a food source for hummingbirds. The flowers provide pollen for bees, and the plants are a good food source for butterfly caterpillars.
When pruning back the eager dead nettle, save some for the kitchen. The leaves and flowers can be added to salads or cooked to add fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your diet. A cup of dead nettle tea can aid in boosting your immune system, help you to relieve allergies, act as an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial and fight free radicals.
There are many types of dead nettle, but also many lookalike plants, so let’s find out what other plants look like dead nettle.
1. Lemon Balm
The lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial in the mint family and native to Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia, and Iran. Lemon balm is called names like Melissa, bee balm, and honey plant. Lemon balm also lacks the minty aroma associated with mint. Instead, it has a mild citrus taste and scent.
Lemon balm leaves are the same shape as purple dead nettle, heart-shaped with a rough surface caused by the leaf veins. Leaf edges are also rounded scallops like the dead nettle leaf. Lemon balm leaves are also covered with soft hair, but less so than dead nettle.
Lemon balm flowers also attract bees and pollinators and, like dead nettle varieties, may be white, pink, or pale purple. Lemon balm is taller than dead nettle, growing as high as thirty-nine inches. Lemon balm has a clumping growth pattern compared to the sprawling pattern of dead nettle. Another way to tell the plants apart is that lemon balm prefers a sunny spot and will not grow well in the shade.
Lemon balm is a long-lived perennial plant that could provide you with medicinal leaves for up to ten years. While lemon balm is also medicinal, it is used for different reasons to dead nettle. Lemon balm is calming, can help relieve a headache, and help to promote better sleep. Lemon balm salve is said to provide relief for cold sores too.
Related: 6 Plants That Look Like Lemon Balm
2. Variegated Apple Mint
The variegated form of apple mint (Mentha suaveolens var. variegatum) is also called pineapple mint and woolly mint. Like dead nettle, apple mint is perennial and is native to the Mediterranean and Europe. The variegation patterns of apple mint leaves may extend from creamy white leaves to green leaves with cream-colored markings. The fruity mint smell is distinctive regardless of the markings.
At a glance, apple mint has a similar leaf coloration to the wide selection of variegated dead nettles. Both plants have a similar trailing and spreading plant shape. However, Apple mint prefers a sunny spot, while spotted dead nettle prefers growing in the shade. Both plants have hairy leaves that are heart-shaped with scalloped or toothed edges.
Apple mint flowers are white and much smaller than dead nettle flowers, but both plants provide a good source of nectar for bees. Apple mint grows taller than spotted dead nettle. Apple mint reaches around twenty-three inches in height compared to six inches for dead nettle. Mint spreads via rhizomes, while dead nettle extends its stems, but both plants can cover large areas if left unchecked.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is also called catwort or catmint. Catnip is also a mint family member native to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The popularity of this plant as a treat for cats and as a herbal tea for humans has ensured that it has spread far beyond its native range.
Catnip, like dead nettle, is a perennial plant with heart-shaped leaves covered with a soft coat of hair. Catnip leaves are grey-green in color with distinct lines and toothed edges like dead nettle. Catnip flowers grow in a whorl pattern on flower stalks much larger than dead nettle, but the individual flowers are remarkably similar. Catnip flowers are white with purple dots.
Catnip can grow forty inches high and prefers sunny spots rather than shaded garden areas. Like dead nettle, catnip provides pollen and nectar that attracts pollinators like bees, wasps, and butterflies during the two-month flowering season.
The henbit plant (Lamium amplexicaule) belongs to the same genus as the dead nettle, so it is no surprise that it has some similarities. Henbit is one of the members of the mint family that lacks the minty fragrance and is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The flower shape and color of the henbit’s purple flowers are similar to dead nettle. Henbit is a winter-growing plant that blooms early in spring, providing an essential food source for bees when nectar and pollen are scarce. Henbit flowers also attract hummingbirds, so think twice before you pull this weed from your garden.
Henbit leaves resemble dead nettle, but the two plants are easy to distinguish from one another. Both plants have hairy leaves with toothed or scalloped edges, but the dead nettle leaf has a leaf stalk or petiole, absent in henbit plants.
Garden mint (Mentha x piperita) is indigenous to the Middle East and Europe. Peppermint is the result of crossing spearmint and watermint. Peppermint leaves are dark green with some purple or red colored veins. The peppermint leaf texture resembles dead nettle but lacks a fine hair covering.
Peppermint flowers are purple, and although the shape is similar to dead nettle flowers, the mint flowers are smaller. These purple flowers are sterile because peppermint is a hybrid plant, but they are still a good food source for beneficial insects in the garden.
As with dead nettle, peppermint can spread through the garden fast. Mint spreads by means of underground stems called stolons. Peppermint plants grow well, even in shaded areas, like dead nettle plants, and must be managed to prevent overgrowth. Most gardeners plant peppermint in containers to prevent it from becoming unmanageable.
Like deadnettle, peppermint is edible and medicinal. The use of peppermint medicinally is often associated with the gastric system. Among its many uses, peppermint is said to help with flatulence, indigestion, and nausea.