As part 4 of this series of brief explorations of weeds you can meet in Berlin I invite you to take a closer look at the Stinging Nettle (but not too close)
what are its secrets and surprising uses? did you know you can make a proper fabric from Nettles that can be used to make clothes?
Apart from stinging when you least expect it the Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has diverse uses in the kitchen, garden and the wardrobe.
In Berlin it grows in damper shadier spots and is a useful indicator of high soil fertility.
The presence of Nettles can often show where previous human activity has 'enriched the soil'. Use your imagination here.
In the above video I talk about these things and then below I go into it in more detail.
The sting. How does it do it?
The Nettle is covered with small brittle hairs called trichomes. Many plants have these on their stems and leaves ( feel for example, the hairy stem of a Tomato plant ) in the Nettle these hairs are modified to deliver irritation. At a touch the trichomes break off and stick in your skin injecting you with a mixture of formic acid, tartaric acid and oxalic acid.
They also deliver a dose of neurotransmitters like histamine and serotonin- yes serotonin, the feel good hormone- but in this case it's anything but mood enhancing.
You can read in depth on the chemistry of stinging nettles here it's a great article if you want to know exactly how the sting works.
For the rest of us who are just skimming here are 3 basic ways to make the Nettle useful in your life:
1 Make tea, not stings
You know how to make tea so I'm not going on about that. But did you know the specific benefits of Nettle tea? ( luckily any type of heat on the leaves immediately deactivates their stinging potential)
Nettle tea can help the symptoms of anaemia because Nettles contain high levels of iron.
It can help relieve the symptoms of urinary tract infections by relieving inflammation.
Drinking it can help your hair grow! the high amounts of silica present helps build healthy hair and finger nails.
2 The sting contains the cure
While the Nettle contains histamine and causes you pain, the extract of the leaves contain compounds that can soothe the pain by turning off your inflammatory response.
3 Making a shirt from Nettles
The stems contains fibres that have a history of being woven into fabric.
This is the process in brief:
Harvest stems late in Summer when Nettles are tall enough and strip the leaves from them.
Spread your nettle stems outside on the ground tied together in bunches.
Turn them over every few days, let them dry out. This is called retting.
Once the stems are dry you have to break them length ways using your hands and extract the fibres. This part is crazy hard work, maybe just stop right there and go live your life.
But if you want to go further...
now you have to scrape the fibres length ways with a knife to soften them up,
Gather them into bunches and then process them as you would process wool.
It looks incredibly time consuming because it is.
But it also looks pretty satisfying.
The resulting fibre is not salubrious, it's kind of grey, it's kind of basic.
But it is real fabric and you made it yourself.
This video shows the whole process in detail: MAKING FABRIC FROM NETTLES
(guy went off the deep end here)
Enough from me. I want to go enjoy my weeds. Hope this was useful to you. If you need any garden help message me, I am your expat gardener for small urban spaces in Berlin.