Stachys bullata: Woodland Beauty
California hedge nettle (Stachys bullata) is an herb native to the coast ranges from San Francisco to Los Angeles where fog drip is a significant source of water.
The ‘hedge’ part of the common name is thought to come from the old world species that tended to grow in fence rows and along roadsides. Part of the mint family, Stachys bullata is only called ‘nettle’ insofar as its resemblance to the stinging nettle (Urtica).
This California native plant’s short, stiff hairs merely impart a sandpapery feel without the rash, itching or pain of the true stinging nettle. In fact, rubbing its leaves releases its pleasant citrusy aroma.
April through August half-inch pink orchid-like flowers emerge on 2-foot stems and make good cut flowers. The plants seem to tolerate clay or sand and perform best with moderate water. They’re most at home in woodland or perennial gardens where soil tends to stay moist. It forms a spreading mat that can help stabilize eroding soil. What’s more, it’s attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
The hedge nettle was used by native peoples of North America as a remedy for colic. Accounts by early settlers of the United States mention the plant as an expectorant and wound healer and a remedy for hysteria and nausea. In the late 1930s it was being studied as an ‘oxytocic,’ to stimulate uterine contractions. It is cultivated as a food in certain parts of Asia today, its tubers sold as “Chinese artichokes.”
Hedge Nettle History
John Gerard, prominent herbalist in the late 1500s, wrote of Stachys bullata: “The leaves, stampt (pounded) with hog’s grease, and applied unto green wounds in the manner of a poultice, heal them in such short time and such absolute manner, that it is hard for any one that hath not had the experience thereof to believe.
“For instance, a deep and grievous wound in the breast with a dagger, and two others in the abdomen (or nether belly), so that the fat commonly named the caul, issued forth, the which mortal wounds, by God’s permission, and the virtues of this herb, I was perfectly cured within twenty days – for the which the name of God be praised.”
Elizabeth Blackwell, enumerates three salient points about the plant in “A Curious Herbal” (1751):
- 1. “The stalk grows to be two foot high, ye leaves are a dark green, and ye flowers red.
- 2. It grows in Hedges, and on Banks, and flowers in June.
- 3. This plant is accounted by some a good vulnerary, and serviceable for all sorts of wounds, and putrid ulcers. It is an esteemed restringent, and good to stop inward bleeding, and ye making of bloody water.”
Evergreen Nursery provides these native plant spotlights for education and entertainment only; if you decide to try herbal remedies it is at your own risk.