Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

More nettle-lore

In 2008 Roy Vickery self-published a booklet Naughty Man’s Plaything – Folklore and Uses of Stinging Nettles in the British Isles, for use at the Natural History Museum’s Nettle Day.  This note gathers together material accumulated since then.

‘The young shoots [of nettles] in spring are not infrequently gathered by the country people to make nettle-kail’ [R.K. Greville, Flora Edinensis, Edinburgh, 1824: 201].

[Co. Mayo] ‘At a certain time of year when the hens are about to moult, we hastened this procedure by keeping them in the darkness and feeding them on boiled nettles.  We would then cut ling heather [Calluna vulgaris] and carry great big bundles on our backs from the bogs.  This would be used for bedding and the hens would gorge themselves, thus speeding up the process of  growing new feathers’ [Marrie Walsh, An Irish Country Childhood: Memories of a Bygone Age, London, 1995: 7; the author was born in 1929 and is apparently reminiscing about her own chidhood].

When it rained we went into Morecambe or to Heysham Head.  It had a zoo and bits of amusements and a circus.  There was also a little café in the main street that made its own nettle  beer.  It was always a must, sitting on the bench outside with a glass of nettle beer each.  It wasn’t alcoholic, not then anyway, and they served it to us whether it was or not [Barbara Coop (b.1944), Pooh Sticks in the Gutter: The Chronicles of a War Baby, Oxford, 2004: 189].

While visiting Sarajevo during its besiegement (April 1992 – February 1996), ‘we went off to have supper with a Bosnian family who described to us what it was like to live a besieged city.  They were sensitive, cultivated people …  They gave us each a slice of quiche, made of flour and young stinging nettles, actually quite good to eat, like spinach.  They explained how the children had made a risky expedition to pick them’ [Shirley Williams, Climbing up the Bookshelves: The Autobiography, London, 2009: 362].

Straddles  – paralysis is ducks caused by sunstroke and cured by sitting them on fresh nettles! [Geoffrey Dearson (ed.), The Devonshire Dialect Dictionary, Exeter, 2022: 327; on-line, accessed 7 February 2023].

Images:  main, Brompton Cemetery, London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, February 2023; beside the River Leam, Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, April 2023.

Edited 23 December 2023.