stinging nettle weed

Comprehensive Guide to the Pros and Cons of Stinging Nettle Weeds on the Kokoda Trail


Trekking the historic Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea offers an unparalleled adventure through dense jungles and challenging terrains. While the journey is enriched with natural beauty and historical significance, trekkers must be aware of the presence of stinging nettle weeds along the trail. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the pros and cons of encountering stinging nettles, exploring everything from identification to potential remedies.

Stinging Nettle Basics

Stinging nettle, scientifically known as Urtica, is a perennial herbaceous plant found in temperate regions. The Kokoda Track is no exception, and hikers may come across various subspecies, including Urtica dioica and Urtica urens. These plants are notorious for their needle-like stinging hairs, which can cause a burning sensation upon contact.


Stinging nettles have serrated leaves and stems, with characteristic hairs called trichomes that inject irritating chemicals like histamine and acetylcholine. The leaves are long, greenish, and opposite each other on the stem. Flowers bloom in leaf axils, and the plant can reach heights of up to 2 metres.

Painful Encounter: Understanding the Sting

When the skin comes into contact with stinging nettle hairs, it triggers a release of histamine and other chemicals, leading to a burning sensation. This reaction, known as contact urticaria, can cause discomfort and redness. Trekkers must be cautious, especially in dense vegetation, and wear gloves if possible to avoid direct contact.

Pros of Stinging Nettle Encounters

Natural Fibre Source

Despite their irritating nature, stinging nettles have been historically used for their fibrous qualities. The plant’s stems contain bast fibers that, when processed, can be used for making cordage and textiles. This traditional use highlights the resourcefulness of indigenous communities along the Kokoda Track.

Culinary Potential

Believe it or not, stinging nettles can be a valuable addition to your trekking menu. The young leaves of the nettle plant have a flavour similar to spinach and can be cooked and eaten. Rich in nutrients, nettles offer a potential source of sustenance for trekkers looking to diversify their trail meals.

Medicinal Uses

Stinging nettles have a history of medicinal applications. Some hikers believe that applying a poultice made from crushed nettle leaves can alleviate the pain caused by arthritis. The leaves are also known for their diuretic properties, potentially aiding in urinary issues.

Cons of Stinging Nettle Encounters

Pain and Discomfort

The most immediate drawback of encountering stinging nettles is the pain and discomfort caused by their stinging hairs. Trekkers may experience a burning sensation that can last for varying durations, depending on the individual’s sensitivity and the area of contact.

Allergic Reactions

For some individuals, exposure to stinging nettles may trigger allergic reactions. The release of histamine and serotonin upon contact can lead to redness, swelling, and itching. It’s essential for trekkers with known allergies to take necessary precautions and be equipped with antihistamines.

Nettle-Induced Dermatitis

In some cases, prolonged contact with stinging nettles may result in nettle-induced dermatitis. This condition manifests as persistent redness, rash, and even blisters. Trekkers should be vigilant and seek medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen.

Safety Measures and Remedies

Wear Gloves and Long Clothing

Prevention is the key to avoiding the discomfort of stinging nettles. Trekkers are advised to wear gloves and long clothing to minimize direct skin contact with the plants. This simple precautionary measure can significantly reduce the likelihood of painful encounters.

Immediate Treatment

In the event of accidental contact, prompt action can mitigate the effects. Washing the affected area with water and soap can help remove the irritating hairs. Applying a cold compress and taking antihistamines may provide relief from the initial discomfort.

Stay Informed

Knowledge is your best ally on the Kokoda Track. Familiarize yourself with the characteristics of stinging nettles and be cautious in areas where they are prevalent. Local guides can offer valuable insights and assistance in navigating through nettle-rich terrains.


Trekking the Kokoda Track is a remarkable experience filled with challenges and rewards. Stinging nettles, while presenting a potential inconvenience, also showcase the diverse flora along the trail. By staying informed, taking preventive measures, and being prepared with remedies, trekkers can make the most of their journey while minimizing the impact of stinging nettle encounters. Embrace the adventure, but tread cautiously where the nettles lurk, and the Kokoda Trail will reveal its wonders without leaving you stung for too long.


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