8 August 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Nettles

Normally, nettles are associated with that nasty sting that they give you should you be foolhardy enough to examine them with bare hands or unfortunate enough to have a brother or sister willful enough to want to push you in to them.  However, they have many more uses than a tool in the escalation in to nastiness of sibling rivalry.  So, why should we stop worrying and learn to love them instead?
Create a Butterfly haven
Apologies if the picture above made you writhe in distaste. Necessary, however as we will start off with something of an excuse for those of you who are lazy gardeners.  Although mostly found in the countryside, the nettle (usually the best known member of the family, Urtica dioica) is often found in gardens which may not have had the due care and attention needed for their maintenance.

However, they do attract a number of species of beautiful butterflies for the purpose of propagation and nourishment.  The gorgeous Peacock butterfly uses the nettle as the only plant on which it lays its eggs so those not terribly attractive butterflies turn in to the beauty pictured above.  So, by having nettles in your garden you can honestly say that you are doing something for the survival of this majestic butterfly.  You are helping turn the above slightly alien looking caterpillars in to this adult, guaranteed to lift the spirits when seen.

Other species dependant on the nettle include the Small Tortoiseshell.  Many moth species also depend on the nettle, including the Ghost Moth, the larvae of which eat its roots.

Make a Recession Proof Lunch
As long as you take due care when picking the nettles, then when cooked you can rest assured that the sting on the leaves are disabled.  They are extremely high in nutrients and make a very cheap alternative to other foodstuffs that are becoming more expensive, such as meat and vegetables and thin air.  They are very high in calories and have no fat content whatsoever and make a good source of dietary fiber.

The biggest plus of course is that they cost absolutely nothing to harvest and there are a million and one recipes for nettle soup out there on the internet.  You don’t even have worry about keeping up appearances here – nettle soup is served in the poshest of restaurants in the City of London. Moreover, nettles are versatile - they will just as easily go on the top of a pizza. Alternatively, they make a perfect pesto!

Help Your Pets Achieve the Perfect Coat
 Many traditional farmers will always put nettles in with the feed for their animals.  It makes the coats of their livestock glossier and so gives the animals an overall healthier appearance when they go to market or to shows.  Some lightly cooked nettles in your dog or cat’s feed will probably reap dividends quickly – and of course they receive the same nutritional benefits as we did at lunch time.

Make Nettle Art
Nettles are artistic – that’s official.  As well as being used in many herbal remedies why not consider the nettle as part of your next piece of art?  Certainly, Thierry de Cordier did not hold back from the stinger when creating his 1988 piece ‘The Equal of God’.  Among his other ingredients of wool, copper and various seeds, the humble nettle was a vital component in the creation of this rather perplexing piece of art.  It is reminiscent of the outfits that proto-Doctors wore during the worst years of the plague in seventeenth century England.

Don’t flog a dead horse – do it to yourself
Flogging oneself with nettles has so many precedents that it has a name – urtication.  This is the deliberate applications of stinging nettles to the skin.  While it is done in some circles for sexual pleasure, it is mostly done for medicinal purposes.  The nettles, the stings of which look really quite nasty when viewed close up (see above) cause the skin to become inflamed.  Used as an agent in this way its proper term is a rubefacient (to cause something to become red, etymologically why it looks like ruby).  Believe it or not this is used to alleviate the pain of rheumatism.

Become an Herbalist
Nettles can be used in much less painful ways to treat a variety of ailments.  In extracted form, nettles can treat anemia, certain kidney problems, arthritis and hay fever.  The Germans are particularly keen on using it to treat arthritis and let’s face it, they do not their remedies.  The root of the nettle is under trials at the moment to treat prostate conditions.  It is also useful in the treatment of eczema.  However, if you have a serious ailment the best advice is to seek help from a qualified medical practitioner.

Pump That Iron!
It’s no secret that boys just want to have fun (sorry, Cyndi) and some boys want more fun than others. However, without the magic ingredient of testosterone there will be little of it, whether it is for the real deal or display purposes only.   Nettles extract is found in a million and one supplements that bodybuilders use. The reason behind this strange fact is that the extract helps to keep testosterone flowing freely around the body.  This helps to augment the amount of lean muscle mass in a body.  When bodybuilders are pumping (the iron, I mean) then that has the effect of decreasing the free flowing beneficial testosterone.  The nettle extracts in the supplements help to replenish it.

It is not only the menfolk that nettles can help, it is also known to help stimulate the production of breast milk.   There are no known adverse health effects on pregnant or lactating women and nettle leaves (mixed with those of the raspberry to take off the bitter edge) are usually brewed up as a cuppa and then sipped in accompaniment to any left over baby food there may be left around (yes, I know what you did last baby) after Junior has had his/her fill.

Make Clothes
Nettles may well be the next big thing in the continuing search for new materials from which to make clothes.  In fact, as far back as 2004, De Montfort University in the UK launched a ‘Sting’ project to look in to commercial applications for nettles.  A textile student, Alex Dear actually wrote her dissertation on the uses of nettle fiber and made the news around the world modeling her knickers and camisole set that she made herself.  This is not a new phenomenon – using the same process as that made to produce linen, nettles have been used for clothing purposes for hundreds of years.  So, why not launch in to the fashion world with your own nettle related range?

First Image Credit James Thorpe