Plants & Gardens Blog

Weed of the Month: Purple Deadnettle

Few wild plants are hardy enough to emerge in April. The ground has only recently thawed and most are waiting for just the right amount of consistent warmth and moisture before coming up. But purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) takes advantage of the open expanses of soil and lack of competition. This common weedy plant is a member of the mint family and forms early groundcover mats, with fuzzy, spade-shaped leaves and delicate purple-pink flowers, a lovely addition to a spring weed bouquet.

You may see it on the edges of an empty lot, taking over mulched tree pits, or growing in patches across still-bare lawns. Its close relative, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), has identical flowers but more scallop-shaped leaves and also appears in April. While the leaves of both Lamium species do resemble those in the nettle family, these mints are actually unrelated to true nettles and have no sting, making them "dead." As with all members of the mint family, they have a telltale square-shaped stem, though neither possesses quite the fragrance or culinary potential of their more popular cousins. At best, you can add the younger leaves to a spring green salad or sauté mix.

The name Lamium, most likely from the Greek laimos, refers to the throat or gullet. It might have been named after its throatlike corolla of flowers. Another interpretation may be the wonderful whistling sound you can (attempt) to make by carefully placing one of the tiny flowers between your lips and blowing. Either you’ll call your garden fairies to attention, or more likely, swallow a fair number of flowers trying.

More: Cold-hardy chickweed is everywhere in early spring and fall. You may even spot some in your salad greens.

An important early food source for hungry pollinators, purple deadnettle and henbit also self-pollinate, ensuring their reproduction regardless of whether they have bee visitors. You can elect to yank these shallow-rooted and easy to pull early pioneers to make way for your spring planting, or you can let them be and enjoy a few weeks of their purples and greens. When the weather heats up, both will yellow and wither, waiting for the cooler days of fall before reemerging.

Saara Nafici is the executive director of Added Value/Red Hook Community Farm. She is also the former coordinator of the Garden Apprentice Program at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a longtime activist, feminist, bicyclist, naturalist, and youth educator. Follow her weedy plant adventures on Instagram.


  • Caren Bartlett March 24, 2022

    Good to know! thanks.

  • [email protected] May 4, 2021

    Can purple deadnettle be composted?

  • Darlene ballard May 3, 2020

    I have a landscaped limestone rock hill. For the first time, it has lots of this weed growing between the rocks - never had this before. It’s hard to crawl around the rocks to clear out. I have sprayed killer on what I can get to. I still have huge dried up weeds. Will it return?

  • William White May 15, 2019

    For my particular property, where SNAKES abound, I wouldn’t THINK of going barefooted in any kind of weeds, especially in the Spring when the baby snakes (which are so much more deadly venomous, than their parents) are out. UNLESS someone can tell me that the dead nettle is a natural snake repellant (similar to lemongrass & most citrus plants)?

  • Leslie McGrath April 20, 2016

    Deadnettle seems to harbor powdery mildew, and its first appearance in my garden this year was in it.

  • Karen Evans May 12, 2014

    Regarding purple deadnettle, to my sensibilities, the plant has a rank, unpleasant odor, and while it may be edible, as in nonpoisonous, it is certainly not choice and is in my book not palatable.

  • Amsale Girma Awalom April 30, 2014

    I have full of these weeds in my yard and never knew that they are edible. Maybe I should try to taste them.

  • Kelly McLane April 24, 2014

    Purple deadnettle is one of my favorite signs of spring! I love how it pops up so early in lawns, making them more full and fluffy, inviting us to remove our shoes and walk among them to cushion our step and tickle our feet!

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Image, top of page: Saara Nafici