Every now and then i find myself looking back through space and time across the old pond, over yonder towards that beautiful, though somewhat soggy jewel of a garden, called England. For many years i lived in and around the city of Cambridge and for a while had the good fortune to live in the rather famous little village of Grantchester, with its gorgeous cow-filled meadows that dip down to the meandering river Cam.
Yes, it really is as quaint as you might imagine…
Lined with Weeping Willow and Cow Parsley, the river bank would open in areas allowing easy entry to the slow flowing water on those somewhat rare, hot English summer days.
I remember one fine day in particular when a new friend of mine, fresh from the US, went careering after a wonky frisbee throw, straight towards the lush, chest high, herbaceous river bank…… straight towards the waiting Stinging Nettles!
You see, Tom had never encountered stinging nettles in his life and didn’t realize he was about to perform an impromptu song and dance for us all. We really did try to stop him… you’ll just have to trust me on that one.
In England you learn early about Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) and about its compassionate companion, Dock (Rumex obtusifolius, Rumex crispus) the leaves of which, when rubbed over the effected area will help to neutralize the stinging compounds.
And some of us also learn that they are a wonderful medicinal and edible too, being high in vitamins A and C, as well as containing high amounts of Calcium, with Manganese and Potassium thrown in for good measure. A real clincher for me is their staggering amount of protein : up to 25% of dry weight of plant can be protein when they are in the full throws of growth!! Rock on!
Medicinally speaking, it has a long history of use in the treatment of arthritis and muscle pain, gout, anemia, and enlarged prostate, as well as hay fever and urinary tract infections.
If you’re going to use them as an edible or medicinal, consider discontinuing harvesting them once they’ve begun flowering and thereafter, as they can be a possible irritant to the urinary tract at this stage, due to high levels of calcium carbonate (think “hard water” scale) in the form of gritty Cystoliths developing in their leaves. If in doubt, go and talk to a good herbalist…
Outside of this time period, and particularly in the Spring… Gobble ’em up, i say!!
And don’t worry, a good long soak in fresh water or a quick blanching in simmering water is all it takes to disarm these prickly wonders…
Good for us…. AND good for our GARDENS too!
That’s right…. Now i know that most people wouldn’t consider planting stinging nettles in their gardens, fearing their tendency to be invasive, or not realizing that they shame the pale spinach into the shadows when it comes to nutritive value and, in my humble opinion, taste ( and, what better way to tackle a “weed” than by eating it?!) and i can understand that they may be a somewhat prickly customer for some……
…so, seeking the middle ground i would like to suggest, rather strongly, that you at least consider using them in your compost piles. That is, once you’ve located a nice little nettle patch… They’re out there! I’ve encountered them… AND have recently discovered one a mere stone’s throw from my house. Consider it another excuse to get out and have a rummage about in the undergrowth! They like it fertile and moist and are fond of forest and field edges. If they do pop up in your garden uninvited, consider it a compliment to your soil conditions.
Being high in nitrogen they make a wonderful compost activator and their high amounts of magnesium, sulphur and iron make them great for use as a fertilizer.
In England folks are fond of pairing Nettles with Comfrey to use in compost piles or make liquid fertilizer with the two together. (More about the “Queen of the permaculture garden”, Comfrey, in an upcoming blog…)
Making a liquid fertilizer of either of these wondrous plants is an easy process:
- chop up some leaf matter of your desired super-hero plant (enough to fill your chosen container)
- pop it in your chosen container (bucket/barrel!!)
- fill with water, to cover super-hero leaf choppings
- leave until you obtain (especially with Comfrey) a nice dark slurry… this may take several weeks… pour yourself a nice drink and watch a couple of sunsets.
- use liberally about your garden as a liquid fertilizer
Refrain from using as a cure for baldness as you may regret the hairdresser’s bills!
Me, i’m sold on eating it, making a nice cuppa out of it AS WELL as loving my gardens with it. I can bear the odd sting here and there and don’t need much of an excuse to get outside and rummage about as it is.
Give it whirl and, at the very least, you’ll see great improvements in the health and vitality of your garden. And if uncontrollably healthy hair and a lack of interest in the imposter, spinach, is not for you (S. Baggish)… well, i’ll forgive you.
Love and Nettley Tingles