"The nettle is an easy plant to identify. The leaves grow on opposite sides of the stem, they have toothed margins and come to a point. That sting is a pretty good identifying characteristic as well," Riley Woodford, Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) occurs widely across North America, and can be found in coastal regions of southeast and southcentral Alaska, including around Valdez.
Stinging Nettle on Shoup Bay Trail
Stinging nettle, as the name implies, stings. According to the Alutiiq Museum, the Alutiiq name for nettle, uqaayanaq, means "something that makes you burn all over".
These plants are coated in tiny hairs that, when touched, release formic acid. Brushing up against nettle may cause skin irritation, though they do not present serious danger. To avoid the nettle's sting, wear long sleeves while hiking and wear gloves if harvesting this plant.
Nettle may be eaten as a vegetable, though it must be cooked first to neutralize the "sting". Prepare nettle by boiling, steaming or sautéing. Dried nettle may also be steeped in hot water as an herbal tea.
Nettles grow well in damp areas with sunlight and disturbed soil. Look for them in meadows or hillsides. In Valdez, patches of nettle can be discovered along sections of the Shoup Bay Trail where they grow alongside salmonberry bramble.