Making Leafy Greens Greener with Nettle Tea

leafy greens
leafy greens


Last week’s gardening post focused on growing kale, the most nutritious member of the entire Cabbage family. But what about other leafy greens?

As you can see from this small sampling, leafy greens have earned their reputation as nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods.

But did you know there’s a secret to growing leafy greens, so they produce the most nutritious leaves in the shortest time?

With a bit of caution, you can transform a common weed into super-nutritious “tea” for your leafy greens. Then stand back and watch them grow!

What Puts the Green in Leafy Greens?

Have you ever wondered what makes leafy greens, well, green?

Nitrogen! According to the Mosaic Crop Nutrition website:

“Healthy plants often contain 3 to 4 percent nitrogen in their above-ground tissues. This is a much higher concentration compared to other nutrients… Nitrogen is so vital because it is a major component of chlorophyll, the compound by which plants use sunlight energy to produce sugars from water and carbon dioxide (i.e., photosynthesis).”

In other words, leafy greens need nitrogen to manufacture chlorophyll, and they need chlorophyll to manufacture food. And chlorophyll, it turns out, makes them green!

Sunlight consists of differently colored wavelengths (think of a rainbow). We see the lower wavelengths as purple and blue and the upper one as red. Because chlorophyll absorbs those wavelengths and reflects the green middle ones, we eat leafy greens. Not “leafy reds” or “leafy blues!”

Because chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light, we see most leaves as green.

The problem plants have is that while nitrogen makes up nearly 80 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, there’s relatively little of it in the soil. And most soil nitrogen (from 95 to 99 percent) isn’t in a plant-friendly form.

Last month, we explained how fava beans work with soil microorganisms to extract and store atmospheric nitrogen gas for the beans to use making chlorophyll. That’s one way to do it.

Or, you could feed your greens synthetic nitrogen fertilizer from any garden store – if you don’t mind breaking the veganic gardening rules by contributing to air and water pollution or climate change!

But there is an alternative!

An eco-friendly, liquid plant-based fertilizer with the nitrogen your leafy greens need for maximum chlorophyll production and photosynthesis. Say “Hi” to…

Stinging Nettle Fertilizer Tea

What could be more veganic than a plant-based plant fertilizer? And more gardener-friendly than one made from plants you harvest for free and boil down with rainwater? (In a pinch, tap water that sits overnight, so the chlorine evaporates, will do.)

Harvest stinging nettles for fertilizer from late spring until late summer.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) tea is both those things. One of the first weeds to emerge in spring, it grows wild in:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Europe
  • North America, from northern Mexico to northern Canada

Look for it in growing in the moist soil along streams and ditches, marsh and meadow edges, in forest clearings, or on

disturbed sites where other plants have been removed. Avoid roadside patches because of potential herbicide contamination.

Stinging nettle fertilizer tea contains the same nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that have made stinging nettle herbal tea a popular health tonic since the time of ancient Greece:

  • nitrogen

    Since the days of ancient Greece, wild stinging nettle has been a highly valued medicinal herb.
  • chlorophyll
  • iron
  • potassium
  • magnesium
  • calcium
  • copper
  • phosphorous
  • zinc

as well as Vitamins A, B1, B5, C, D, E, and K.

Picture all of them supercharging your leafy greens so your leafy greens can supercharge you!

Safely Harvesting Stinging Nettles

As a defense against hungry predators, stinging nettles sprout fine, needle-sharp spines on their leaves, stems, and flowers. They’ll inject burning chemical irritants into anything that brushes against them, including you!

Dress for harvesting the nettles in heavy, long pants, a heavy, long-sleeved shirt, and heavy gloves. You’ll also need garden pruners or snippers, and a sturdy sack or bucket for transporting your harvest.

Place your sack or bucket so the clipped stems will fall directly into it. Cut each stem at a leaf node, leaving several sets of leaves on each plant.

Don’t handle the cut stems until they wilt and their hollow spines have deflated. Once that happens, they’re no longer a threat!

How to Make Stinging Nettle Foliar Fertilizer

Things You’ll Need:

  • 4 ounces cut nettle leaves
  • Bowl for steeping leaves
  • 4-cup (1-quart) measuring cup
  • 6 cups rainwater or dechlorinated tap water
  • 4-cup saucepan for boiling water
  • Fine mesh strainer or nut bag
  • Clean 1-quart jar to hold fertilizer tea
  • 1 tbsp measuring spoon
  • Spray bottle


  1.  Place the cut nettle leaves in the bowl.
  2. Measure 4 cups of water and pour it into the saucepan.
  3. Heat the water to boiling.
  4. Pour the boiling water over the nettle leaves.
  5. Steep the leaves overnight.
  6. Strain the nettle fertilizer tea into a clean 1-quart jar.
  7. Pour 2 cups of rainwater or dechlorinated tap water into a spray bottle.
  8. Add 1.5 tablespoons of the nettle fertilizer tea to the spray bottle.
  9. Spray your leafy greens once weekly.
  10. Store the remaining tea in the jar-no need to refrigerate.
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