Learn how to tell the difference between henbit and purple dead nettle, plus tips for using and eating these early spring weeds!
Where to Find
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) are two commonly confused weeds whose flowers appear around March, or early spring. You can easily go foraging for them in your garden beds or cold frames, or find them tucked along protected sections of your house’s foundation.
Both Henbit and Purple Dead Nettle are native to Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa, but are now widespread in North America. Some people consider them a pesky weed in their lawn or garden, and the truth is that they can play intermediary host to a few baddies (including tomato spotted wilt virus), but on the plus side – they’re great early food sources for bumble bees and other native bees and pollinators. (And we humans can eat and use them too!)
Here’s a photo of henbit and purple dead nettle growing side by side in our garden, mixed in with a cover crop of clover:
Henbit has no poisonous lookalikes. As far as purple dead nettle: as long as it’s flowering (so you can positively ID the tiny flowers), it has no toxic lookalike. The young plant with just the leaves alone can sometimes be confused with very young foxglove, which is toxic, but once it blooms, you can easily tell the difference between the two.
A few people confuse henbit with Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), also called Ground Ivy. Here’s a photo of Creeping Charlie below. The leaves are kidney shaped and attached to the stem with petioles (little stems) – unlike henbit leaves which are attached tightly to the stem. Creeping Charlie blooms a little later in the spring, and and you can see that the colors and shape of the flowers are different.
Although they’re two different plants that are often mistaken for each other, the good news is that henbit and purple dead nettle are both edible and beneficial in their own ways!
They’re both in the Lamium family, which means they’re in the same family as mint. As is common in mint family plants, they have square stems. Henbit and purple dead nettle do not smell or taste like mint though!
How They Taste
Henbit (in our opinion) has a light, succulent, mild greens taste with a hint of spice, while purple dead nettle has a strong peppery flavor and somewhat reminds us of eating a hairy piece of kale. (Others find the flavor more appealing, so you’ll have to make up your own mind about that!)
How to Identify
Now, let’s go into further detail on each of these plants.
- Latin name: Lamium amplexicaule
- Flowering season: late winter to early spring
- Other names: Common Henbit, Henbit Deadnettle, Greater Henbit, Giraffe’s Head, Hen and Bitty
- Growth habit: generally sprawling or low-growing, multiple stems come from a single taproot
- Winter annual, reproduces by seed
- tubular flowers
- color is pink to pinkish-purple with spots on the lower lip
- the “hoods” of the flowers have fine hair on them
- rounded scalloped leaves with a wrinkly look
- upper leaves don’t have a leaf stalk (petiole) and they wrap around the stem (are sessile)
- lower leaves can have leaf stalks
- leaves grow in pairs, opposite from each other, with long lengths of stem in between
- leaves have fine hairs on them
What to Do with Henbit
Can you eat henbit? Yes! The stem, leaves, and flower are edible. Young plants are considered more palatable than older ones. Science hasn’t deeply studied the nutritional profile of henbit, but it’s said to be high in antioxidants and fiber.
Henbit is a wild edible that can be eaten raw or cooked. It’s actually quite tasty! Try adding a few chopped pieces to your next salad, or mix with other spring greens and spinach to make smoothies or quiche.
When we pull up piles of henbit (and purple dead nettle) to make space to plant veggies, we give most of it to our chickens and ducks (they love it!), plus dole out a few sprigs for our bunny to enjoy.
Identifying Purple Dead Nettle
- Latin name: Lamium purpureum
- Flowering season: late winter, early spring
- Other names: Red Deadnettle, Purple Archangel, Purple Deadnettle
- Grows to about 16 to 18″ tall
- Winter annual, reproduces by seed
- flowers are lavender, purplish, or purplish pink
- they are bilateral with lips
- the flowers and flower buds are hairy
- triangular or spade shaped leaves
- leaves start out green, but the plants develop purple tops as they mature
- leaves grow in opposite pairs and are all crowded together along the stem
- leaves have hairs on them (but they don’t sting, like stinging nettle does)
What to Do with Purple Dead Nettle
Purple dead nettle can also be eaten raw, but to be honest – it’s not as tasty to us as other spring greens such as chickweed or henbit. You can include it in pesto, soups, and quiches, in place of, or combined with, spinach and nettle. If you’re pregnant, don’t take purple dead nettle internally.
We mostly use it to make a tincture for seasonal allergies, as a poultice for wounds in the field, and to make infused oil and salves that are useful for first aid or aches & pains, and more! Check out our sister site – The Nerdy Farm Wife – for lots of helpful recipes!
- 9+ Things to Make with Purple Dead Nettle
- Purple Dead Nettle Salve (3 recipes!)
- Purple Dead Nettle Lotion Bars
Our articles are for information and idea-sharing only. While we aim for 100% accuracy, it is solely up to the reader to provide proper identification. Be sure to seek out local foraging classes and plant walks, and invest in mushroom and foraging guides suitable for the area you live in, since some wild foods are poisonous, or may have adverse effect.