Although Chamisso’s hedge-nettle (Stachys chamissonis) strongly resembles stinging nettle, the two plants belong to different families and are not closely related. Hedge-nettles are members of the Mint Family while stinging nettle belongs to the Nettle Family.
A native perennial, Chamisso’s hedge-nettle is found in the Pacific Coast States, including Alaska, and British Columbia. Its ecology is moist clearings, thickets, open woods and wet disturbed areas at low elevations. These specimens were growing in early September along the Steep Canyon Trail in Silver Falls State Park (Marion County OR).
The erect, mostly unbranched stem of Chamisso’s hedge nettle arises from rhizomes and, like members of the Mint Family, is square in cross section. Small, bristly hairs are scattered along the stem. The entire plant has an interesting odor, particularly when bruised. The odor is often described as “rank” in the literature. I personally find the smell interesting and unusual, but not unpleasant.
The opposite leaves are ovoid in shape, stalked, hairy on both sides and coarsely toothed.
Red-purple flowers arranged in interrupted whorls at the terminal end of the stem form Chamisso’s hedge-nettle’s inflorescence. The flowers have five sepals united into a tube with five spine-topped lobes. The five petals are fused into a two-lipped tube. The lower lip has three lobes and white flecks. There are four stamens and a four-lobed ovary.
Fruits are four nutlets in a dry seed case.
The brightly hued, tube-shaped flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.
Chamisso’s hedge-nettle leaves are edible when cooked, but their fuzzy texture and bitter taste make them unappealing. Sucking the nectar from the base of the flowers provides a sweet treat along the trail.
Native Americans used Chamisso’s hedge-nettle as a general anti-inflammatory. Rhumatism was treated with heating Chamisso’s hedge-nettle leaves in a steam bath.
A synonym for S. chamissonis is Stachys cooleyae. There are several subspecies of S. chamissonis and several other hedge-nettles that closely resemble Chamisso’s hedge-nettle. To add to the confusion, many taxonomists consider Mexican hedge-nettle (Stachys mexicana) to be the same as S. chamissonis.
The genus name, Stachys, is Greek and means “spike” (like the ear of corn) and refers to the shape of the inflorescence. Adelbert von Chamisso (1781 – 1838), a German botanist who was born in France, is honored by the species designation. von Chamisso botanized in the San Francisco Bay Area. S. chamissonis also has many colloquial names including great hedge-nettle, coastal hedge-nettle and Cooley’s hedge-nettle.