Nettle (Urtica diocia)
'Tender handed touch a nettle and it will sting you for your pain, grasp it like a man of mettle and it soft as silk remains.'
Nettle, despite it being a noxious weed everyone is trying to destroy, it is a ‘super’ plant that can be used for food, medicine and the making of cloth and cordage. Cordage making begins in the summer once the plant is more mature usually from June/July onwards. Remove the leaves, bash the stem and then open it up to remove the pith. The outer fibres can be plaited or twisted to make strong string or rope. I have found it as enduring as any plant fibre including deer sinew as cordage.
The leaves are full of minerals and vitamins especially A and C, and have a 2.3% iron content and 5.5% protein content by weight. Nettle puree can be made by simmering the leaves for 5 minutes adding butter and seasoning with onion as a tasty alternative to spinach. You can simply boil and steam the vegetable if preferred.
To make nettle crisps just simply shallow fry the freshly picked nettle tops being careful not to burn them and then dab dry with an absorbent paper.
As a medicine nettle can be collected just before it flowers to relieve high blood pressure, cystitis, anaemia (due to mineral rich leaves) and can act as a diuretic. Use the leaves fresh or dry. The root can treat diarrhoea and dysentery and be made into a tincture for eczema.
The plant can also be used to weave cloth; a bronze age Dane was discovered wrapped in nettle fibres.
Only in the last century the plant was used to make table cloths and bed linen in Scotland.
In World War Two the plant was gathered to supply chlorophyll for medicines and dye for camouflage nets.
Nettles are also very important for wildlife they support beautiful butterflies such as the comma, red admiral, peacock, painted lady and the small tortoiseshell.
Keep a patch of nettles and look beyond its spiky appearance to its wealth of uses.
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Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.