This study evaluated the presence of bioactives in wild nettle leaves and stalks during the phenological stage and in the context of natural habitat diversity. Thus, wild nettle samples collected before flowering, during flowering and after flowering from 14 habitats situated in three different regions (continental, mountain and seaside) were analyzed for low molecular weight polyphenols, carotenoids and chlorophylls using UPLC-MS/MS and HPLC analysis, while the ORAC method was performed for the antioxidant capacity measurement. Statistical analysis showed that, when compared to the stalks, nettle leaves contained significantly higher amounts of analyzed compounds which accumulated in the highest yields before flowering (polyphenols) and at the flowering stage (pigments). Moreover, nettle habitat variations greatly influenced the amounts of analyzed bioactives, where samples from the continental area contained higher levels of polyphenols, while seaside region samples were more abundant with pigments. The levels of ORAC followed the same pattern, being higher in leaves samples collected before and during flowering from the continental habitats. Hence, in order to provide the product's maximum value for consumers' benefit, a multidisciplinary approach is important for the selection of a plant part as well as its phenological stage with the highest accumulation of bioactive compounds.
Keywords: ORAC; UPLC-MS/MS; accelerated solvent extraction; antioxidant capacity; carotenoids; chlorophylls; location; nettle leaves and stalks; phenological stage; polyphenols.