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can tortoises eat nettles?

Can Tortoises Eat Stinging Nettles?

Last Updated on September 19, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Most nettle species are renowned for their irritating sting when touching bare skin. Considered a weed, they’re often removed from yards or sprayed with pesticides.

Stinging nettles are used in tea, medicines, and as an ingredient in certain meals. Ancient Egyptians used them as early as the 10th century to treat arthritis and lower back pain.

Incorporating stinging nettles into a tortoise’s diet can have advantages. From minimizing the risk of chronic disease to reducing inflammation, nettles can benefit tortoises.

What Are Stinging Nettles?

The stinging nettle is a perennial flowering plant with a history of medicinal use dating back to 100 A.D. in Ancient Greece. Today, stinging nettles are used in medicine, tea, and doughy foods.

Despite their varied and beneficial usages, stinging nettles are considered a nuisance and irritant. When you brush up against nettles, you’ll develop itchy, red, or swollen skin.

Not all varieties can sting you, but most do due to hollow stinging hairs called trichomes. The trichomes can be found on the leaves and stems, injecting chemicals into the skin’s surface.

The trichomes also come off the plant and stick onto whatever made contact, causing further irritation.

Do Stinging Nettles Hurt Tortoises?

Determining if tortoises experience discomfort in response to the stinging hairs is difficult.

They may register the irritation but ignore it as a small price for a tasty snack. It’s also theorized that the nettles don’t affect tortoises, perhaps due to their thick skin.

Despite having no natural defense against the sting (that can be scientifically determined), they don’t appear to mind and will eat stinging nettles regardless.

You may remove the stinging hairs before offering your tortoise the nettle plant or allow it to wilt to ensure the sting is mild. Alternatively, switch to dead nettles.

Can You Feed A Tortoise Nettle?

The term ‘nettle’ often refers to stinging nettles and dead nettles. Tortoises can eat both types safely as long as they’re not sprayed with insecticides.

Of course, it’s possible to boil or wash the nettle plant to reduce the amount present. However, there’s always a risk of some residue remaining.

The best form of nettle to offer your tortoise is sold in grocery stores. These are made for humans to eat or drink, so they’re safe for consumption by tortoises.

are stinging nettles good for tortoises?

Stinging Nettles

Aside from the irritating hairs, stinging nettles contain no harmful compounds that will poison or upset your tortoise’s digestive system.

Even with the limited toxins in the hairs, tortoises eat this plant raw. This is often motivated by its unique texture and flavor, which tortoises find appealing.

If you want to spare your tortoise the mild stings, you can process the nettles by blanching or soaking them in hot water, disarming the stinging hairs.

Feeding younger nettle leaves is also recommended, as older leaves contain more oxalates.

Dead Nettle

Dead nettles are safer for tortoises to eat than stinging nettles because they contain fewer oxalates.

There are many varieties of this nettle, but favorites include:

  • Yellow archangel (also known as yellow dead nettle).
  • White dead nettle.

Dead Nettle vs. Stinging Nettles

You can switch to dead nettles if you’re concerned about irritation from stinging nettles.

A mix-up won’t harm your tortoise but may defeat the goal of avoiding possible irritation. Here are ways to separate dead nettles from stinging nettles:

Dead NettlesStinging Nettles
LeavesHeart-shaped, serrated edges, deeper veinsOval-shaped, serrated edges, fuzzy surface
FlowersYellow, whiteGreen-yellow and white
Height2-4 feet2-4 feet
Safe for Tortoise?YesYes

Are Stinging Nettles Good For Tortoises?

When cooked, a single cup of stinging nettles contains only 37 calories and is high in vitamins and minerals, such as:

  • Vitamin A.
  • Vitamin C.
  • Iron.
  • Magnesium.
  • Potassium.
  • Sodium.

Chronic Disease Prevention

Stinging nettles contain many antioxidants, including:

  • Polyphenols.
  • Lutein.
  • Vitamin C.

Antioxidants help tortoises avoid oxidative stress, which has been linked to diseases. These are chronic, age-related conditions, such as:

  • Heart disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Cancer.

According to the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, stinging nettle extract is an effective source of antioxidants for treating diabetes.

Also, the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research determined that stinging nettles can lower the risk of developing tumors.

Healthy Liver Function

Stinging nettles protect the liver against damage from toxins, heavy metals, and inflammation.

According to Toxicology and Industrial Health, researchers noted that extracts from Urtica dioica decreased the effects of liver damage in rats.

Reduced Inflammation

Inflammation is a response from the immune system to harmful stimuli. Your tortoise’s body may become inflamed if it’s confronted with infection, wounds, or allergies.

Stinging nettles reduce inflammation, especially those related to the skin.

Lower Risk of Diabetes

According to the Clinical Laboratory, eating nettles can lower blood glucose levels. This is accomplished by helping the pancreas release or make more insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels.

Diabetes in tortoises is caused by a lack of blood sugar, which results from a lack of insulin. Although diabetes is uncommon in reptiles, it’s most likely in tortoises and turtles.

How To Give Nettles To Tortoises

Although nettles are a healthy supplement from nature, they must be prepared correctly. This will ensure your tortoise isn’t exposed to outside bacteria or pesticides. Here are the steps to take:

Wear Gloves

Most reactions are mild and tend to dissipate after a few minutes. Nonetheless, it’s an uncomfortable experience, and if you are allergic to nettles, it may cause life-threatening reactions.

Safe Nettle Leaves

Nettles bought from the market are safe for tortoises to eat, as they’re prepared for human consumption. You can also forage for nettles on your own.

Ideally, choose nettles from your yard or garden, where you can guarantee they’re pesticide-free.

Public areas, like parks, usually use insecticide, so avoid these places.

Young Leaves

Nettle leaves contain more oxalates as they age. Exposing your tortoise to excessive oxalates makes calcium absorption more difficult. So, avoid oxalates by giving your tortoise young nettle leaves.

These can be found on the tips of stalks and the very top of the plant. Also, younger leaves will be softer and smaller than older leaves.

Clean The Nettles

Cleaning the nettles removes dirt, debris, and other contaminants. Clean the nettles by running them under the hot tap water for 2-3 minutes.

Blanche The Nettles

When placed in hot water, the stinging hairs of nettles become disarmed.

You can accomplish this by putting nettles in a bowl of hot water for about 2 minutes or turning nettles into tea. Pour the nettle tea into the tortoise’s drinking water.