Henbit, also known as Purple Dead-nettle or Red Dead-nettle and in Latin as Lamium purpureum, is a unibiquitous garden weed in much of North America. It’s one of the first plants I learned as a child in my dad’s garden in West Virginia. Dead-nettle refers to the foliage vaguely resembling stinging nettle leaves, but dead-nettle doesn’t have any stiff stinging hairs. In fact, the foliage is soft and fuzzy to the touch.
It’s an easy plant to identify and a rather pretty weed. Look for the somewhat velvety, triangular shaped leaves surrounding the square stem (characteristic of members of the mint family). Small pinkish flowers are nestled among the foliage at the tip of the stem. The upper leaves are usually reddish-purple while the lower leaves tend to be more green.
Henbit is a winter annual. That means the seeds may germinate in the late fall or winter and once the soil warms up the plants grow quickly, bloom, set seeds, and then die. Right now I’m seeing some large patches of Henbit in slightly moist sunny places around our neighborhood, including in our garden.
Rarely do our plants, including weeds, grow in isolation. In this photo our crop of Henbit is growing along with Hairy Bittercress, aka Shotweed or Cardamine hirsuta.
There are actually two closely-related plants that have been called Henbit. The one shown here, Lamium purpureum, is perhaps more often called Purple Dead-nettle. The other Henbit is Lamium amplexicaule. That one has flowers that stick up above the leaves and the foliage is more rounded.
Since Henbit is a weed, meaning a plant growing where it’s not wanted, and not native to Washington I’ll be pulling it out in the next few days to keep it from going to seed. That seems a shame since it’s such a pretty little thing. Some authors suggest that Lamium purpureum is edible, but I haven’t tried it yet myself. I’ve also seen the suggestion to feed it to your chickens. I wonder if our girls will like it?