I’m about to commit a gross error. Yes, for some the humble Stinging Nettle is a weed. There, I’ve said it…..the ‘w’ word. But, only to get that out of the way, right at the beginning.
The definition of a weed, is essentially, any plant that you don’t want to grow!
At the far end of my garden, in the wilderness of north Wales, well, actually just over the unmarked and unannounced boundary of my garden, is a rivulet. On the far side of the rivulet there are ancient trees, shrubbery of all sorts and gorse bushes. Indeed, that wilderness starts just before you leave my otherwise human-cultivated garden, and I like that.
To have some wilderness apparently ‘encroaching’ into my garden, actually reminds me that I’m very much the ‘guest’ in this wild and ancient countryside, and that is extremely humbling.
And so, therefore, in my garden, there is about one-fifth of the land, at the far end which isn’t human-cultivated, and so it grows wild, and that’s where there are some rather nice, wonderful and much under-rated stinging nettles. Yes, I’m happy with them there, and I’m pleased they are growing there…and so by definition they are not weeds! I’m pleased about that, too, especially as the humble stinging nettle gets bad press.
As a Druidic-Christian I am enthralled, in awe, captivated and even mesmerised at times by nature; dear wild, green, profligate, the absolute ‘fecundaceousness’ of nature.
My encouragement to you, then, is to take time in forests and wooded places, and if in the city, to visit parks, and in the UK to visit ‘commons’, those places where parts, if not all, are ‘overgrown’ and nature is wild, and then look out for stinging nettles, and appreciate them. Really appreciate them.
‘When the nettle is young, the leaves make excellent greens; when it grows old it has filaments and fibres like hemp and flax. Chopped up, the nettle is good for poultry; pounded, it is good for horned cattle. The seed of the nettle mixed with the fodder of animals gives a lustre to their skin; the root, mixed with salt, produces a beautiful yellow dye. It makes, however, excellent hay…And what does the nettle need? very little soil, no care, no culture; except that the seeds fall as fast as they ripen, and it is difficult to gather them; that is all. If we would take a little pains, the nettle would be useful; we neglect it, and it becomes harmful. Then we kill it…My friends, remember this, that there are no weeds…there are only bad farmers.’
I accept that Stinging Nettles, like other plants that some people would prefer not to grow, can spread rapidly and need cutting back from time to time, but they are wonderful plants.
Yes, I cut back that part of the garden, and prune trees in that area, periodically, always ‘asking’ beforehand. It would in discourteous not to do so! For some, ‘asking’ is necessary, especially for those for whom elementals inhabit such areas. But, even if one relegates such a belief to a romantic or metaphorical concept, ‘asking’ is still necessary, I believe, as it puts things into perspective: In cutting back undergrowth, I need to ensure that I am sympathetic to nature, to the wildlife and insects that live in and off of such plants, and am not reckless. ‘Asking’ ensures that I am not ‘doing my own thing’, but am in empathy with nature around about me. It encourages and enhances reflection, and that cannot be a bad thing, and encourages ‘oneness’.
The week, 21-27 May is, traditionally, ‘Be nice to Nettles’ week.
Did you know, for instance, that the Stinging nettle is called Urtica Dioica, which comes from the Latin meaning ‘two houses’. This refers to the fact that both the male and female flowers are normally carried on separate plants. Don’t you find that interesting?
It is also possible that the term ‘nettle’ is derived from ‘Noedl’, old English, meaning a needle – referring to the stinging mechanism in the nettle leaves.
That’s the thing about Stinging nettles, they do indeed…..sting. For the chemists amongst you, you may like to know that the plant, which is covered in tiny hairs, when touched break off and ‘transform’ into needles that can inject several chemicals: acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes, and possibly formic acid into the skin. Yes, they sting, and so I wouldn’t advise you go too near. However, if you do get stung, it is said that the leaf of a (nearby) Dock leaf will quell the pain.
Did you also know, that Stinging nettles are much loved by butterflies, such as Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies, as well as attracting aphids which are necessary in the food-chain for birds.
‘Butterflies are like angels kisses sent from heaven.’ Malia Kirk
If you have a garden, could you ‘allow’ a small section just for the stinging nettle (or other wild plants), and if you live in an apartment, why not be ‘wild and reckless’, avant-garde and radical and grow a stinging nettle in a pot? Okay, others may find that strange, but now you know different. Now, you know the value of that plant to nature and butterflies, specifically.
Did you also know Stinging nettle tea (and you can always ‘pop’ into a tasty additional tea bag to improve the flavour) is said to have beneficial health properties (of the complementary kind!). Stinging nettle has been used medicinally since at least 3 B.C. And, in medieval times, it was used to treat pain in joints, as well as act as a diuretic.
Today, many use Stinging nettle tea as it is seen by some as a diuretic (water-reducing), and is regarded by many as an analgesic (pain-reducing), paradoxically, and as a depurative (cleansing the body of toxins, and is therefore beneficial to the kidney and liver).
If you want to enjoy a cup of stinging nettle tea, I’d suggest you buy some, say, from Holland & Barrett (rather than make some from the raw plant, unless you’re a qualified herbalist), and if taking prescribed medicine do check with your doctor or health practitioner – there are a few ‘contraindications’ depending on what other medicines you’re taking. But, what a wonderful way to start and/or end the day with Nettle tea?
In ending this, and it could be that you’re (still) not enamoured with the wonders of the Stinging nettle though I can’t imagine why – they are truly wonderful – then, my final encouragement is to urge you to look again at the awesomeness of nature, and especially those parts which mankind has designated as a burden or unlovely. See with a beginner’s mind, become as little children as one commentator on humanity said, and treasure nature in all its beauty – Stinging nettles, as well. Be nice to nettles, please. Brother Nettle, as St Francis might have said! That seems a (more) enlightened, aware, Celtic (Christian), Druidic and Pagan approach. What do you think?
Happy planting, Tadhg.