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Saturday, 2 July 2022

A Suitable Name

I remember when I was a child reading a fairy tale about a princess who had to make something or other with stinging nettles and I could just tell that it wasn't a pleasant job. It said as much right in the book; the stinging nettles stung her hands.

I've just Googled "fairy tale nettles" and yes, there it is, the story of The Wild Swans. It's got a wicked stepmother, a banished princess, magic, accusations of witchcraft, more magic, and those stinging nettles -- and, of course, swans. There is more than one version, but the Danish one by Hans Christian Anderson, seems to be the one I read when I was little. 

In it, the princess' brothers are changed into swans by the wicked stepmother, and the only way they can change back is if the princess makes shirts for them from stinging nettles. With one thing and another, she is accused of witchcraft and is about to be burned at the stake, but she doggedly works on those shirts until the last moment, flings them over the swans to change them back into her brothers,  and brings about a happy ending.

I wondered if stinging nettles were a real plant, because there's a lot of made-up stuff in fairy tales. Also, I'd never heard anyone in my little world talk about stinging nettles as something that lived in our province or even our country. So the question just sat in the back of my mind for something like fifty years until the internet came along, and also blogging, and I started finding references in other countries to stinging nettles as FOOD -- although, to be sure, you must cook the leaves and stems if you do not wish to have heck in your mouth.

Well, guess what I ran into in my own yard a few weeks ago, and again yesterday? Yes, you get a gold star.

Both times I was weeding and found them with my hands, which had predictable results. I was wearing thin plastic gloves which I use instead of my heavy gloves for many gardening jobs because they are less clumsy and keep my hands cleaner than no gloves at all. Both times, I spent twenty-four hours regretting it.

The first time I was stung, for reasons I no longer remember but can guess at (4x daily trips to my mom's for eye drops, for example) I promptly forgot about it. I forgot to check the internet to see if we even have stinging nettles in Nova Scotia. I forgot to wonder if there were more plants in my yard. I forgot what it looked like. I forgot to wear heavier gloves when pulling weeds again. I forgot that I ever got hurt.

Yesterday it happened all over again. My thumb hurt so badly I couldn't use it and even though I didn't use it, it still hurt. I was so affronted I quit weeding and spent the day on the computer. One of the first things I did was Google stinging nettles and sure enough, we got 'em. They apparently spread through their roots, or you can buy them for $4.00 Canadian for several hundred seeds if you are so inclined.

What I was inclined to do was go outside with my thick gloves and dig up that plant and any others that looked like it and lay them in the sun to shrivel up, after which I used my thick gloves to wrap them in newspaper and placed them carefully in the compost bin for pickup.

Here is pictorial evidence, by the way:

 

Growing right under my nose



 
Ye shall grow no more, wicked plant

 

Do  you have stinging nettles where you live?

Have you ever gotten stung?

Have you ever eaten stinging nettles?

Are you an adventurous eater?

What is the most adventurous thing you have ever eaten?

 


49 comments:

Boud said...

I lived in North Yorkshire as a kid and remember falling into a bed of nettles, stung all over my arms and legs, and my sisters running to collect dock leaves to rub on the stings. Dock often grows near nettles, so the antidote is right at hand if you recognize it.

It makes great soup I'm told. None where I live now though.

jenny_o said...

Boud: I can only imagine how painful that must have been. I wonder if there's any dock growing here. Everything I read says the nettles are delicious if they are picked when small and tender, but I'm not at all adventurous and I'm not sure I could bring myself to try them.

Joanne Noragon said...

The little bastids grow in Ohio, and I've encountered them, not in a good way. My brush(es) with them have been hiking, in sort of meadowy environments. I was told lava soap would end the sting, but it really didn't.

jenny_o said...

Joanne: Soap and water was what I read would help, too, but it didn't. Or maybe the sting would have gotten worse if I hadn't washed. Hard to tell. It felt like splinters for hours.

Elephant's Child said...

We have them here too. Pesky and painful. Many years ago as a young thing I fell into a bed of them. Not fun at all.
I haven't seen them here in a while but am sure they are still around.

jenny_o said...

Elephant's Child: Sounds pretty horrible to me. Here I am complaining about one spot on my thumb. I shiver to think of having that pain all over.

River said...

We do have them, as EC says, everywhere. Many years ago, they were popular as chicken food, those who kept chickens also grew the nettles to mix in with the other scraps fed daily to the chickens. The nettles are rich in iron, so you end up with bright golden yolks in the eggs. For the same iron reason, they were often added to soups, but never to salads because of the stings. Nettles must be cooked for human consumption. As far as I know I was never fed nettles when young and I have no intention of trying them now. A lot of home gardens these days don't have them, they get dug up and thrown into the green waste bins or composted.

dinthebeast said...

I don't know if we have them out here, but they do have them in Oklahoma, where I discovered them while riding a Honda 90 in shorts. They reminded me of yellow jackets, only growing in the ground.
I'm told they have some medicinal value, but I'm not sure what it would be.\
The most adventurous thing I ever ate was probably Jack's red bean, peanut butter and pumpkin soup. I liked it, but I was really hungry at the time...

-Doug in Sugar Pine

Andrew said...

Yes, they must have been brought from England and as so many imported plants and creatures, they just loved our climate. I was stung when I was a boy. We don't really hear about them here now, but I guess they still grow. I've not eaten them. I am not a food risk taker, mainly because my Scottish blood makes me mean and I would hate to buy something and not be able to eat it. I guess the most adventurous thing I have eaten was catfish in Thailand. It was delicious. I have tried kangaroo and crocodile but I didn't like either. Crocodile, 'tastes just like chicken' does not taste just like chicken. Kangaroo had an unpleasant smell, little fat so it was quite dry and was tough. Maybe my sister's cooking was partly to blame.

Infidel753 said...

Never heard of them, but thanks for the pictures so I know what to avoid. I certainly wouldn't torture myself by trying to make shirts out of them. I can think of people who should just stay swans anyway.

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

I remember this fairy tale too.
We have loads and loads of stinging nettles in the garden. I get stung often. There's two remedies The juice from the leaves, crush them and lace the stung skin with the juice. Or hot water, as hot as you can stand it without getting scalded, this takes most of the stinging as the heat denaturates the proteins in the poison (works for mosquito bites and bee and wasp stings as well) but if you - or the nettle - did a good job of the stinging, there's still small bits of needles in your skin, and they are an irritant by themselves.

We regularly eat them in bread and buns; chop, scald and mix into the dough - they're tasty. You can eat the seeds as well, Nettles are healthy and taste good (but not as nettle soup I think).
I want to make fibre from them and thus grow them in a corner of my garden, they get quite as tall as me and are actually quite impressive.

Yes, I'm an adventurous eater, show me something edible I have not yet tasted, and I'm willing to try, only drawing the line at potentially lethal stuff as Fugu.
The most adventurous thing I ever ate? .. two things come to my mind. Sheep's brains, it tasted not bad at all, like rice boiled in milk. And half a smoked, boiled mutton head. The fat from the ears was rather gross.

Mike said...

I don't think I've ever run across it. I probably wouldn't recognize it. I have seen videos of a certain profession using it on their clients. I also found this on Wikipedia... " In indigenous justice systems in Ecuador, urtication was used as punishment for severe crimes in 2010. The sentenced perpetrator of a crime was flogged with stinging nettle, in public, naked, whilst being showered with freezing cold water."

Joan (Devon) said...

I was amazed to read you had never come in contact with nettles before as they are quite common over here. Yes, I have been stung many times and although not painful they are irritating until the sting wears off. I could be wrong (it has been known, lol), but eating nettles is a recent 'invention', I certainly don't remember it being mentioned a while ago. Take care Jenny.

Marie Smith said...

There were lots of stinging beetles in Newfoundland when I was young. They are in PEI too but I haven’t found them in the garden here yet.

Anonymous said...

I've made the mistake of wearing sandals and walking in an overgrown alley before.

Steve Reed said...

We've got tons of nettles in places like Hampstead Heath. I've brushed against them while wearing shorts and come to regret it. Apparently people gather the tender tips from the plants and eat them (cooked!), which I have never tried.

Steve Reed said...

BTW, here's an interesting (maybe) bit of trivia: the plant that I knew as a nettle when I was a kid was a completely different species.

https://majikphil.blogspot.com/2021/05/stinging-nettles-of-florida-cnidoscolus.html

I'm not sure it's even related to the stinging nettles you've written about. I remember getting a heck of a sting from them when I was little, though.

gz said...

It's the hairs which deliver the "sting" . Young nettle tips make a good tisane or can be cooked like spinach..once cooked the hairs are ineffective.
Nettles are a good food plant for the caterpillars of many butterflies as other beneficial insects...and they are also a sign of good soil.

They may be a nuisance in the "wrong" place..but they are not poisonous like some!!

Diane Henders said...

I haven't seen nettles here on Vancouver Island, but we had them in Manitoba where I grew up. I seem to recall seeing them in Alberta, too. I don't remember getting stung, but I must have; because I knew from an early age what nettles looked like and to steer clear of them. I've never tried eating them - that "steer clear" instinct hasn't diminished with age! :-)

Ole Phat Stu said...

Yes we have nettles in Germany, thankfully no poison ivy tho.

e said...

I have had nettle tea with honey, snails, rabbit, snake and alligator. Might explain why I've been a vegetarian since my 20s.

messymimi said...

They are real, we have many stinging and poison plants to watch out for, and nature can be very scary.

kylie said...

back when I worked for a herbalist we used to make a lot of nettle tincture. In a place where we made over 200 tinctures, nettle was hands down the brightest green.
I drink nettle tea but I have never run into a plant, which I am happy about.

Martha said...

I've heard of them but I've never given them much thought. I'm not sure if we have any here or not, but I guess is we probably do. I'll have to look that up. I'll also have to check around our property to see if any are growing. As for being an adventurous eater, I like trying different foods, especially from different cultures but I won't eat just anything. There are a lot of things that simply gross me out!

jenny_o said...

River: That's interesting about the iron content and being used as chicken food supplement. Part of me wants to try cooked nettles and part of me just can't do it. I'm glad that second part of me has company :)

Doug: Ouch! Regarding nutrients, see River's comment about being high in iron. Your comment on the unique soup reminds me of a quote: Hunger is the best sauce :)

Andrew: That sounds quite adventurous to me. I read recently that alligator is fish, gamey, and tough. Does not seem like something to go out of one's way to find :)

Infidel753: I think there are many kinds of nettles, so this is not necessarily the kind you would encounter. Probably close, though. The thing is, I could even SEE the prickles before I touched it, but other plants have prickles and I've pulled them with no problems ... hopefully someone that's not me can learn from my mistake :)

Charlotte: Aha, you are a very curious eater - kudos to you! Thank you for the interesting bits of information about nettles, especially the ways to stop the stinging. I think my hesitation to use them comes from unfamiliarity with them. How did you learn to use them?

Mike: I'm thinking that's a fantastic deterrent to further lapses in judgement.

Joan: Interesting that you mention they are more irritating than painful. Mine was definitely painful, so maybe there was a bristle stuck in my thumb that I couldn't see, although I did check using a magnifying glass. Hope you are having a good summer, Joan.

Marie: That's interesting. I don't know how we got them here but there are plenty of ways, I suppose, from birds to animals to wind. I'll be on the lookout for them from now on :)

Anonymous: Oh no! Painful.

jenny_o said...

Steve: It seems the plant you linked to has similar mechanisms to protect itself though. And its seed capsules burst open and fling its seeds around! Yikes! I'll just concentrate on eradication, I think :)

jenny_o said...

gz: Yes, my reaction is probably more extreme than it needs to be. I am not used to plants hurting me like that; ours are generally quite benign. I wonder if the stinging hairs bother other animals or insects?

Diane: Sounds like you might have encountered them - or been earnestly warned! I'm afraid I'm not adventurous at all with my eating. Maybe it comes from having so many stomach aches as a child and then acid reflux as an adult. Anything I can do to keep my stomach happy is worth the effort :)

Ole Phat Stu: No poison ivy? Well, that's a good thing! We do have that in Nova Scotia, although I've never come across it myself. And hope I never do :)

e: LOL! It might :)

Mimi: Yes, I think the closer to the equator, the more dangerous Nature is. Also I guess the closer to the poles, it's the same. I feel fortunate to have so few dangerous insects and plants where I live, actually. Maybe that makes me less comfortable with the few I run into.

jenny_o said...

kylie: What does nettle tea taste like? Working with an herbalist must have been quite interesting. It's not a mainstream job by any means.

Martha: They looked so innocent; the hairs/bristles looked soft and unthreatening and I touched it with no hesitation. Big mistake. lol I wish I could eat different foods but I always worry about what it will do to my stomach. I'm not a big fan of burning or nausea, and that's what I've had the few times I've strayed from foods I know.

Janie Junebug said...

I don't think we have stinging nettles, yet they look familiar. I wonder why anyone would buy seeds for them. I guess you could plant them outside windows to try to keep out the burglars. There's a plant here (don't know what it's called) that people really do like to have outside their windows. It's much larger and more noticeable than nettles. I have been told it will give you nasty cuts if you tangle with it. Isn't it wonderful when you think of something you used to wonder about and now you can get the answer from Google?

Love,
Janie

jenny_o said...

Janie Junebug: From comments here, it seems they can be used for a number of things. I learn so much - not just from Google, which you're right about! - but also from readers. That's a good idea about planting something fierce outside windows. A natural guard dog without the dog.

DB Stewart said...

This conjures memories of growing up in Saskatchewan. Ouch. But also those memories of wandering in the yard and down the road and being free. Thank you.

Mary said...

When I was growing up in the UK and out playing in fields, stinging nettles were the bane of my existence. Like Boud, the first thing I would do was search for big dock leaves to help cool off the sting. Haven't run into nettles so much where I live in the US...but there is plenty of poison ivy, poison oak, etc..

Jennifer said...

I remember that fairy tale, The Wild Swans, very vividly from my childhood. It was really creepy to me, especially at the end where one brother was left with a wing on one side (where the cloak didn't completely cover that arm). And wasn't the girl forbidden to speak while she made the cloak? I seem to remember her not speaking for some reason.

jenny_o said...

DB Stewart: Like you, I have good childhood memories. (Unlike you, stinging nettles weren't part of them!)

Mary: They seem to be quite common in the UK. I'm going to try to identify if we have dock leaves. I'm so glad there's not an abundance of poison ivy or poison oak here. I would never leave the house.

Jennifer: You're right - great memory! I was trying to be brief and didn't mention those details, but I always thought they were the most interesting parts. The princess being forbidden to talk was part of the deal with the wicked stepmother and helped to create problems in the story to be overcome. Kind of like a Hallmark movie :D

Rachel Phillips said...

Common as muck in England. We even chuck old farm machinery "in the nettles". A dock leaf is normally placed over a sting, if anything.

jenny_o said...

Rachel: "Common as muck" - great expression; one I hadn't heard before. I don't know why my thumb hurt so badly; it was beyond just a sting. Maybe there was a piece still in my skin that I couldn't see. I need to check if we have any dock plants.

Mr. Shife said...

I got a gold star! Yay for me!
I have never heard of stinging nettles until today and I have no idea if we have any near us or if I have been stung by one.
I am most definitely not an adventurous eater.
Hope you are well, jenny_o. Take care.

jenny_o said...

Mr. Shife: Ha ha! (the gold star) I'm guessing you would notice if you had been stung. I'm glad I'm not the only non-adventurous eater. I like what I like and I see no need to stray from that comfy path :D You take care too.

LL Cool Joe said...

We have more stinging nettles than plants in our garden. They are everywhere. I wish other things grew as well as they did. I tend to wear thick gloves that go up my arms because I've had a few tic bites in recent years which can turn nasty. I have been stung many a time, not pleasant but bearable pain!

Cherie said...

Bit of a nightmare weed here but I dry them in spring and summer and add them to soups in the winter months. They are supposedly very good for us.

Mr. Shife said...

Happy Thursday, jenny_o.

Mr. Shife said...

Another happy Thursday to you, jenny_o.

jenny_o said...

Cherie: I thought I could recall you using them in soup. From what I've read, they really are supposed to be good for a person.

Mr. Shife: And the same to you! By golly, that's an order, even :)

Rachel Phillips said...

Sometimes the sting will be worse than others and 'penetrate' like a needle. Antihistamin cream can be applied for relief.

jenny_o said...

Rachel: That's what it felt like. I don't think I was just being a wuss. lol Good to know about the antihistamine cream. I just hope I never need it :)

Anonymous said...

I have a small patch of nettles growing at the bottom of ny garden.

https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/dig-it-may-tips-from-the-secret-gardener

Jon UK

jenny_o said...

Jon: Thank you for that helpful link. Now I feel guilty for having such a bad reaction to finding this plant in my yard! I didn't realize that nettles have an important place in the lives of butterflies.

baili said...

Beautifully told dear Jenny.

I used to go for picking up the wood sticks for stove as little girl with my cousins. I felt at first sight that I am familiar with this plants and because of some sour memories.

There were many many kind of thorny bushes and nice looking plants and weeds like this who stung me and others then
Hope your thumb is fine now

jenny_o said...

baili: It's strange - I am familiar with other pointy plants and they don't bother me (for example, thorns and thistles) but because the stinging nettle is new to me, it seems more threatening. I think there's a lesson there somewhere :)