Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


NHALS 0201. In Derbyshire blacksmiths would use stinging nettles to treat the pain of a bad back when shoeing horses.  My father was taught this in the 1970s and continues to employ it to this day in his 70s [Brompton Cemetery, London, June 2023].

2. I was once out for a walk with an Irish woman who beat her legs with stinging nettles to treat her rheumatism [Battersea, London, May 2023].

3. My Irish mother had great faith in nettles – cook like spinach with butter, good for skin; drink juice [Beckenham, Kent, November 2021].

4. I dry nettles and make a tea infusion each morning for allergies as I am unfortunately allergic to my cat [Ruskin Park, London, August 2018].

5. In the 1940s in Warwickshire my stepmother got us to collect nettles which she made into a shampoo, which she sold as ‘Crowning Glory’ [Clapham, London, September 2017].

6.  In Poland people don’t mind being stung by nettles – they think it’s good for rheumatism – both to cure and prevent it [Cranham Marsh Nature Reserve, Upminster, Essex, July 2017].

7.   Dordogne, France, summer 2015, I was working on a farm, the owners told me that ‘if you grasp a bunch of nettles quickly and firmly they won’t sting you!’   I still got stung a lot [Natural History Museum, London, May 2017].

8. [Bosnia]  My elderly mother uses stingy nettle leaves to ease the pain in her knees [Natural History Museum, London, October 2014].

9.  Living in south Derbyshire in the 1980s the older village women made hair conditioner from nettles.  Steep in boiling water, strain, then pour over washed hair, then rinse.  Tried it, and works a treat [Lichfield Wildlife Group, Staffordshire, September 2014].

01710.  My dad made nettle beer from young nettles every spring. A basket of nettles, sugar, stick of rhubarb [Rheum], ginger [Zingiber] and yeast. He considered it a spring tonic and we drank it all before it had finished fermenting. It makes my mouth water thinking about it 1[Bevington, Gloucestershire, November 2013].

11. My grandmother, who was born in 1871, used to collect stinging nettles to make a drink to help with her arthritis. I don’t know the recipe. but it would not be alcoholic as she was from a Methodist family. They lived in the Eden Valley near Kirkby Stephen in the former county of Westmorland, which is now part of Cumbria [Barrowford, Lancashire, November 2013].

12. My father (now 90) used to take a bath with nettle leaves in it for his rheumatism. He has had rheumatism for as long as I can remember [Warsaw, Poland, November 2012].

13. Albania – rolling in nettles to cure arthritis [Burgess Park, Southwark, London, June 2012].

14. In Italy it is said that if you touch the stinging nettle [while] holding your breath it doesn’t hurt you. I tried, but it was untrue! [Natural History Museum, London, April 2012].

15. If you get really stung by a nettle, split open its stalk and rub the juice on the sting [Whitstable, Kent, May 2011].

16. There’s a greengrocer in Camberwell who sells nettles. I think he imports them [Camberwell, London, November 2010].

17. I have a friend in Poland who believes that nettles are good for arthritis [Roydon, Norfolk, November 2010].

18. My grandmother, in Austria, used to sleep on nettles to cure her arthritis; she would lay them on her bed and sleep on them. My grandmother showed me how to eat nettles: you pick a leaf, stroke the undersurface from the stem to top to get the hairs to lie down, roll it up, and eat it. Again my grandmother used an infusion of nettles to treat eczema [Roehampton, London, May 2010].

19. I’ve certainly eaten nettle tops as a sort of substitute spinach in the days when funds were at zero and we were living in the Suffolk countryside, where hips and haws, nuts and blackberries were also there for the harvesting [Streatham, London, March 2010].

20. [Northeast Italy, 1940s] When I was young my parents kept turkeys – I grew up in the countryside – I used to have to collect nettles to feed them – I hated the bloody stings [Pimlico, London, June 2009].

21. My father swore by a gypsy remedy and would be beaten with nettles when he suffered lumbago [Cowes, Isle of Wight, January 2007].

22. [Ireland] I remember my mother collecting nettles to feed to her turkeys [Mitcham, Surrey, April 2003].

23. My grandmother used to swear by nettles, she would beat her wrists with them to treat her arthritis – we all laughed at her then [Chelsea Physic Garden, London, August 2001].

24. After the War people in Berlin lived on nettles. I wasn’t there myself, but I was told so by people who were [Girton, Cambridgeshire, June 1996].

25.  A customer … explained how nettles were used in Scotland for clearing the blood. They would be boiled and drunk night and morning. People also made nettle broth [Streatham, London, June 1994].

Selected from approximately  200 items in Plant-lore Archive.

Images: main,  Palace Road Nature Garden, Brixton, London Borough of Lambeth, February 2014; upper inset, nettle tips for sale £1.50 a bag, at Balham Farmers Market, Henry Cavendish School, London Borough of Lambeth; another stall offered slightly larger bags of nettles for £2.00, May 2016; lower inset, Holy Ghost Cemetery, Basingstoke, Hampshire, May 2015.