How not to identify plants...

hmsadmin Posts: 123 admin

So, I have been trying to learn a plant-a-day, and paying a lot more attention in general to all the varieties I'm lucky to be surrounded by right now.

Last week, I had noticed a little mint-family-looking-something growing right by my front stairs. I'm super new to plant ID, so anything with broad, serrated leaves, and squarish stem, gets categorized into the mint-ish family in my mind until I can ID further.

I usually don't touch much, at least until I can for sure ID something, and then I'll only pick if it'll be useful and I'll actually use it. But this day, I had just gotten back from a walk, and noticed the little plant again, and on a whim decided to pick a leaf to see what it smelled like...

As soon as I brought the leaf to my nose, a bit of wind picked up and brushed the leaf right onto the tip of my nose... It only took a split second to positively ID it as a baby Stinging Nettle! πŸ˜‚

Thankfully, I didn't react too badly, but my nose sure did sting for a good 30 minutes!

I consider it a small price to pay for a good lesson learned, and I'll likely never forget what a baby Stinging Nettle looks like now.

I'm sure every herbalist has their own list of newbie-blunders... What has been your funniest, or even scariest, experience when learning to ID and benefit from our plant friends?


  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,356 admin
    edited July 2019

    This story has to do with my dad & stinging nettle.

    Not too long ago, my dad, who has never been sensitive to stinging nettle before, was going to show someone how he wasn't so sensitive to it.

    He found a bunch, picked it and rubbed it up & down his arms. He reacted like never before &;it stung for quite some time, so I was told. Needless to say, his non-sensitive days are over! πŸ˜‚ (Poor Dad)

    That reminds me that I should warn my husband before he might suffer the same fate.

    As for IDing, I am extra cautious, and have to know exactly what I am dealing with before any trial & error.

  • hmsadmin
    hmsadmin Posts: 123 admin

    @Laurie Hahaha! That's too funny!

    I too have never been super sensitive to stinging nettle, or even poison ivy, but man have I seen them do a number on some family members... So, I try not to press my luck with them. This cute little one got the best of me though, hah!

    I've been using an app for a 1st try at ID, then books, asking in our forums, and web searches to confirm. I haven't wildharvested anything yet for use.. but I'm totally with you - I'll have to be 100% for sure of what I'm dealing with before I go about using any of it.

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭


    Every year in my early childhood, family went Berry, & Mushroom harvesting in the close-by surrounding forests. The knowledge of which was passed down thru the generations, until as adult one knew what is safe to eat. And even as a tiny tot every German child knows to stay away! from "Fliegenpilze": the Warning! red-capped 1 with the mesmerizing white specks. And other mushrooms, both bad, & good. - When I was but 11, one day hungry I just went off on my own, Yup huge skillet full... of warm & yummy. Soon falling asleep, I awoke with my poor gut on fire ! Managing to survive... family asked me to take them to the place, & they explained that while those looked awfully similar to the wonderful πŸ™‚ STEIN PILZE that we enjoyed every Autumn, those I ate were NOT the same! Oops!

    Plus you have to be extra... careful when imprinting/teaching kids: See just as I did as a toddler, so 1st. daughter too participated... growing her own 2by4 foot garden plot starting age 3. - Plus I emphasized to her repeatedly... that while we buy 'mushrooms' at the store, some mushrooms are deadly! Of course then you have to explain about death, since as kids we know we live forever, regardless. True, but as far as mortality Limits exist. - Anyway, when said daughter was pre-school, one day at church while mom was directing choir practice inside, older kids dared her to eat mushrooms in the church lawn. - She didn't tell me 'til afterwards, & I ran her to the ER posthaste. - Afterwards, I asked WHY did you do that ?? & innocently she answered: 'I know God LOVES me, so he would not let a deadly mushroom grow by the church, so I thought it was safe to eat' . - Oh boy, more discussions...

    Too many friends believe since I've grown veggies & fruits most of my life, & won Blues, obviously I know things. -- UM, am quick to point out that of everything in the world, I know .0 (with endless... zero's after) 1% of like 10% possible; Iow ignorance is staggering. - But no 'Stinging nettles' around here. So they're beneficial, but I can live without them just fine.

  • Blair
    Blair Posts: 46 ✭

    Poison Ivy used to grow every year around an old stump at my Aunt & Uncle's place. My cousin always just pulled it out by the roots with her bare hands and it never bothered her til one year in her late twenties or early thirties she got poison ivy so bad she had to go to a doctor and get a prescription for it, (lasted for weeks). just goes to show our bodies change and what didn't bother us last time might not be so harmless next time.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,356 admin

    iNaturalist is one that was recommended to my mom by an arborist.

  • macycandice
    macycandice Posts: 5 ✭✭✭

    I will say this for plant identification, good or bad: once you have made an ID, and are absolutely sure, the knowledge will never leave you. I first started wildcrafting with my aunt as she was teaching my cousin who is a year older than me. My cousin grew up with herbs in her house, and knew quite a bit more than I. In true tween fashion, there was showing off, including the dreaded nettle, lol. My cousin has super sensitive skin, so when she picked the stinging nettle to show me, boy howdy. She had only handled the already dried version of it in her house, so she didn't realize at the time the "sting" that came with picking fresh nettle. My aunt sure brought the lesson home as she tended to my cousin, but the point is, neither of us ever forgot what nettle looks like after, or to be cautious during our new experiences with plants.

  • anita.toler73
    anita.toler73 Posts: 24 ✭✭✭

    You are so lucky to have stinging nettle growing wild - I had to mail order mine! I wanted to reply to you because I just moved from Michigan to Virginia and noticed alot of different plants here than when I lived up north. I tried to use the free Plant Snap app but it is a waste of time and hardly ever identifies anything correctly.

    I can tell you one thing I can never identify is poison ivy. Everyone says it is very distinctful but I keep learning the hard way on what is and isn't. We have a bunch in our new yard.

  • merlin44
    merlin44 Posts: 426 ✭✭✭✭

    Stinging nettle TELLS us it's name. An introduction (and plant) you'll forget. LOL I don't know how many times I've been distracted and walked through a patch, reminds me to pay attention to the moment-an excellent teacher.

  • Obiora E
    Obiora E Posts: 517 ✭✭✭✭

    I purchased some Stinging Nettle last year and heeled them in late Fall/early Winter. I started seeing them grow this Spring and decided to harvest some. I picked quite a bit to steam and needless to say my right hand felt numb for about two days after. I still pick bare handed...for the most part the tingling is short lived.

    My father is really good at identifying plants and taught his children some things growing up. We were fortunate to have a variety of bushes and trees growing up, so I can identify different fruits based on that experience. As I became an adult and started growing food I learned about various plants that we often call "weeds" by my father and other elders. I was interested and started teaching myself more through books, observation, and putting myself in position to listen to and learn from others when they speak about plants.

    But even though many friends and family think I know every plant there is like @rainbow I know very little overall. I try to let people know there are hundreds of thousands different types of plants and I will never know every plant that exists and I am fine with it. However, the plants that I have learned I have taught others how to identify them and to distinguish between it and other common members of the same family.

    I enjoy foraging and have really gotten more into over the past three years.

  • Melissa Swartz
    Melissa Swartz Posts: 270 ✭✭✭

    I have found that jewelweed is an excellent antidote to stop the sting from nettles. Break off a stem and slit it open (you can usually do it with a fingernail or thumbnail). Inside the hollow stem there is moisture that you can rub on the area affected by the nettles. It provides instant relief. The first time I tried it I was amazed at how fast it works.

  • VickiP
    VickiP Posts: 586 ✭✭✭✭

    This thread reminds me of a camping trip I took my grand kids on. The oldest one was adventuresome and she kept running on ahead so yep, she stumbled into a patch of nettles. OWWW!! We slathered her legs with baking soda paste and very shortly she felt better and wanted to explore some more. OWWW! We slathered the other leg. The next day? you guessed it two more times. It was getting tiresome. "Honey" I said, "Don't you recognize it yet?" "Yes" she said. "But I keep thinking I'll out grow it!"

  • blevinandwomba
    blevinandwomba Posts: 813 ✭✭✭✭

    I first encountered stinging nettles as a teenager on a family trip to Antietam National Battlefield. Similarly to the original poster, I thought it was a wild mint, so I rubbed the leaves with my fingers to release the smell. I soon realized my mistake.

    The thing with nettles, as I understand it, is that the hairs contain an acid which is injected into your skin. Apparently if you touch it the right direction you won't break the hairs, but I don't have any experience with that. I used gloves when I need to harvest. Poison ivy, on the other hand, has on oil on the surface (urushiol ) that most people are allergic to, and can develop an allergy to overtime. Point being, I don't know if some people are not sensitive to nettles or if they have just not touched it the wrong way. Hope that makes sense.