Many have shunned this stinging plant, but on a closer look we find its not as inhospitable as we first thought
Stinging nettle or common nettle is well known to us all as the plant we discovered in our childhood, I don’t think there can be many that cannot remember being stung and then afterwards going on the hunt for a dock leaf to run on the sting, luckily the dock plant and stinging nettles grow close together, how thoughtful of mother nature to think of that. The sting comes from histamine along with other chemicals, it’s not just humans that can get stung either many other animals can as well.
Stinging nettles have long been known for their culinary uses, tasting similar to spinach when cooked, they are rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Ask the larvae of the Peacock Butterfly or the Small Tortoiseshell and they will tell you how good it is, (Well that is you speak butterfly!) in fact that’s all they eat.
Native Americans used them freely, they are also found abundantly in northern Europe and Asia but hard to find in southern Europe and North Africa as the plant likes a moist soil, so in places where the annual rainfall is high there you will find them.
A lot of people won’t eat them because of their sting but this soon goes after soaking in water, or in the general process of cooking, they are best eaten as young plants and certainly before they start to flower as after flowering, the nettles develop particles called "cystoliths", these can irritate the throat.
Here in the UK we have an annual Stinging Nettle Eating Championship (Well you know how nutty we Brits are) it’s held in the southern county of Dorset where thousands of people from all over the world come to watch the competitors try to eat as much raw nettles as they can, the competition started in 1985 when two neighbouring farmers had an argument about who had the most nettles on their farm. (See I told you we Brits were mad)
Nettle soup with eggs and potatoes is a very popular dish in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. in Roman times Nettle cordial was often drunk, made from sugar, water and young nettle leaves, after the leaves have been soaking for a while they are removed and lemon is added.
One of Shakespeare's characters in Henry IV "Hotspur" urges that "out of this nettle, danger, we grasp this flower, safety" but the saying "to grasp the nettle “is thought to originate from Aesop's fable "The Boy and the Nettle its always been thought that if you grab the nettle firmly rather than brush your hand against it, you will not be stung.
Because of the nature of its stem commercial nettle textiles are being tried out, the stem is similar to a fibre that is used in the process of making linen; it’s also use for its dye.
If you have a water butt in your garden adding nettles to it will enrich the contents in supplying magnesium, sulphur and iron to your soil, and added to the compost make a great activator because of its nitrogen content.
Nettles have long been known as a use as a medicine, recorded in the 10th century The pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm includes nettles, clinical trials have shown that nettles when made into a juice is beneficial in patients with congestive heart failure, so you see those old Anglo Saxons knew what they were doing.
Urtication, or flogging with nettles was use for people with rheumatism, they thought the pain from the nettles took the patients mind off the actual rheumatic pain, however we now know that extracts from nettles can indeed help all sorts of pain, nettle is used in some shampoo to control Dandruff as well as making the hair more glossy, whilst some farmers give their cattle nettles to eat as it is thought it helps eczema.
Studied in human clinical trials have found to alleviate the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (increase in the size of the prostate) bodybuilders use nettles to help increase testosterone, fresh nettles have been use to stop bleeding and the list goes on.
Tender-handed stroke a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains;
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as silk remains.
-Aaron Hill early 18th century
More from this Author