Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stinging Nettle/ Brændenælde

Urtica dioica

The young nettles in spring are very healthy

The stinging nettle has a long medicinal history, but also in general it's a very useful plant. Fabric woven of nettle fiber has been found in burial sites dating back to Bronze Age.

The nettle was used for a vast number of diseases both in ancient Greece and in the rest of Europe. Among many others the physician Galen recommended it highly - and Plinius praised it for its styptic qualities. The Roman soldiers brought it with them on their expeditions in order to massage their soar legs and to promote the circulation of the blood.
In medieval Europe diuretics and remedies for joint problems were made from stinging nettle. Arthritic joints were sometimes treated by whipping the joint with a branch of nettle. The same technique was used by healers who used the branches of nettle to strike the arms and legs of paralyzed patients in order to activate the muscles. Psychiatrics (up till the late 1800s) treated people with mental disorders by whipping them with nettles.
The monks in medieval Europe had a section in their herbal garden with stinging nettle for both medicinal and culinary use.

Scientics of today have discovered that stinging nettle is well qualified for treatment of various diseases . The plant is basic and a good remedy for the stomach and a strengthening remedy in anaemia and reduced immune defence. Pluck fresh young tops in spring for a strengthening herbal tea. The leaves can be mixed with other ingredients to create a soup, a good source of nutrients for people who lack meat or fruit in their diet. Stinging nettle has to be pluck in spring before flowering. In autumn the leaves are not usable for food. Do not pluck by traffic roads.

From a culinary view the nettle has an old reputation. It is one of few wild plants still gathered each spring by country-folk as a pot-herb. It makes a healthy vegetable, easy of digestion. The young tops are good in soup, stew and as a spice. They contain much A- and C-vitamin and important minerals. But there are many possibilites and various customs. Nettle-pudding is known in Scotland, Nettle beer is known in different places, there is a Nettle Hair Tonic to prevent hair falling. Nettle is mixed in fodder for live-stock, (which doesn't sting the animals after a process!) in fodder for horses to give them a sleek coat - and in fodder for poultry for better and more eggs. Stinging nettle is also used in biodynamic and ecological agriculture for manuring and spraying.

Stinging nettle's fiber is very similar to that of Hemp and Flax, and it was used for the same purposes from making cloth of the finest texture down to the coarsest such as sail cloth, sacking, cordage etc. In dyeing processes the leaves make a beautiful and permanent green dye used for wool or a yellow dye formerly used to dye yarn. The yellow colour was also used to dye the Easter eggs.

In Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the Princess and the Eleven Swans , the coats she weaved for them were made of nettles.

HCAndersens 'The Wild Swans', translated by Jean Hersholt:

The nettle is wellknown for its sting, which can be cured by applying juice from the plant to the skin. An old rhyme says:

Nettle ind, dock out

Dock rub, nettle out.

photo 120308: grethe bachmann

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