Monday, 13 July 2015

The Naming of Weeds - The Stinging Nettle

The Naming of Weeds - The Common Stinging Nettle (Urtica incisa)

We all know nettles because we have learnt to avoid getting stung, naturally the vicious plant has gathered a collection of unflattering names that reflect its nature, these include Devil's leaf, Naughty Man's Plaything and Hoky-Poky.  The nettle's reputation is not enhanced by it's habit of thriving on the fertile soil of graves.

They also thrive in damp soil on abandoned farmland and buildings where the soil has had its phosphorous and nitrogen levels boosted by animal or human waste, consequently it is a very nutritious foodplant that supports and protects the larva of some of our prettiest butterflies and moths (Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Angle Shades, Buff ErmineLesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Mouse Moth, and Setaceous Hebrew Character). There is a lot for humans to appreciate about this troublesome plant, the list of its healing capabilities is long

In Hans Andersons tale of the Princess and the Eleven Swans, the princess made coats of nettles in order to change the swans into princes.  This is not so far fetched because Nettles are a related species to hemp and for centuries their fibres were used to make cloth; in Danish burial mounds they found bodies wrapped in nettle shrouds, the use of nettle gradually died out after introduction of flax, but it was still going on in Scotland in the seventeenth century 

'In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen.'  Poet Campbell

In the first World War the Germans made their uniforms from nettles because cotton was unavailable.

Some believe the common name nettle is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "netel" which is said to have come from "noedl" meaning needle.   Others believe the word has common origin with "net" being the passive participle of ne, a verb common to most of the Indo-European languages in the sense of 'spin' and 'sew'  It is all needles and threads!

There are many plants that look like stinging nettles but do not sting, like the very pretty White Dead Nettle.

Just now the Hedge Nettle. otherwise known as Woundwort is in flower.

Woundwort is sometimes known as Hedge Nettle

 Nettle Recepies from

Nettle Pudding
To 1 gallon of young Nettle tops, thoroughly washed, add 2 good-sized leeks or onions, 2 heads of broccoli or small cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, and 1/4 lb. of rice. Clean the vegetables well; chop the broccoli and leeks and mix with the Nettles. Place all together in a muslin bag, alternately with the rice, and tie tightly. Boil in salted water, long enough to cook the vegetables, the time varying according to the tenderness or other vise of the greens. Serve with gravy or melted butter. These quantities are sufficient for six persons.
Pepys refers to Nettle pudding in his Diary, February, 1661: 'We did eat some Nettle porridge, which was very good.'

Nettle Beer
The Nettle Beer made by cottagers is often given to their old folk as a remedy for gouty and rheumatic pains, but apart from this purpose it forms a pleasant drink. It may be made as follows: Take 2 gallons of cold water and a good pailful of washed young Nettle tops, add 3 or 4 large handsful of Dandelion, the same of Clivers (Goosegrass) and 2 OZ. of bruised, whole ginger. Boil gently for 40 minutes, then strain and stir in 2 teacupsful of brown sugar. When lukewarm place on the top a slice of toasted bread, spread with 1 OZ. of compressed yeast, stirred till liquid with a teaspoonful of sugar. Keep it fairly warm for 6 or 7 hours, then remove the scum and stir in a tablespoonful of cream of tartar. Bottle and tie the corks securely. The result is a specially wholesome sort of ginger beer. The juice of 2 lemons may be substituted for the Dandelion and Clivers. Other herbs are often added to Nettles in the making of Herb Beer, such as Burdock, Meadowsweet, Avens Horehound, the combination making a refreshing summer drink.

As an arrester of bleeding, the Nettle has few equals and an infusion of the dried herb, or alcoholic tincture made from the fresh plant, or the fresh Nettle juice itself in doses of 1 to 2 tablespoonsful is of much power inwardly for bleeding from the nose, lungs or stomach. Old writers recommended a small piece of lint, moistened with the juice, to be placed in the nostril in bad cases of nosebleeding. The diluted juice provides a useful astringent gargle. Burns may be cured rapidly by applying to them linen cloths well wetted with the tincture, the cloths being frequently re-wetted. An infusion of the fresh leaves is also soothing and healing as a lotion for burns.

Nettle Tea Nettle is one of the best antiscorbutics. An infusion known as Nettle Tea is a common spring medicine in rural districts, and has long been used as a blood purifier. This tea made from young Nettles is in many parts of the country used as a cure for nettlerash. It is also beneficially employed in cases of gouty gravel, but must not be brewed too strong. A strong decoction of Nettle, drunk too freely, has produced severe burning over the whole body.

The homoeopathic tincture, Urtica, is frequently administered successfully for rheumatic gout, also for nettlerash and chickenpox, and externally for bruises.

'Urtication,' or flogging with Nettles, was an old remedy for chronic rheumatism and loss of muscular power.

Young Nettles, mashed and pulped finely, mixed with equal bulk of thick cream, pepper and salt being added to taste, have been considered a valuable food for consumptives.


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