Nettles, ah, nettles. I love them so much.

I drink their nourishment in my morning tea, I grow nettles in my yard and sun room. When it is time to harvest I do so with much gratitude and the few stings I get are easily remedied with a little juice from a crushed stem or leaf. I want to share a story about nettles that I read many years ago. This story has been around for a long time, I believe it is originally from the American Indians.

The story is “How Nettles got their sting” or “The Plant of Gold”.

“Early in time, when no one owned land and water ran pure; many plants, animals, and humans lived in harmony. Time marched on and humans multiplied filling more of the wild spaces. Some were nomadic, following herd migrations and harvesting plants and berries as part of their diets. There, a medium sized plant with smooth leaves and large, lovely blooms of blue. All parts of this plant were edible so the plant was very desirable. With its large roots for roasting, leaves that were perfect for stews, and flowers that were a delight raw or prepared in near any manner. The stems of the plant were also good for creating cloth and rope.

People were cautious in the beginning. They always made sure to leave plenty behind and to strew the seeds about ensuring the propagation of the plant. The  people gave thanks for the gifts of the plant and left offerings when they harvested. As time passed the people stopped giving thanks, they stopped strewing the seeds, they harvested all of the plant they could find.

Finally the plant cried out to the Great Spirit.

“Please help me, near all my children are dead, I am weak. Other plants are taking over and I haven’t seeds to scatter anymore. I will be gone next spring, you are my only hope.” The Great Spirit heard, and became angry with the people. He set a huge storm to brewing causing the people to hide in fear of what they had done. Lightning struck the last plant and bits of light flew from the plant all over the ground. Everywhere the light hit, new plants sprouted. The plant is transformed. The leaves were cut and toothy, the flowers were now small and difficult to see, the plant had also become taller, tiny hairs covered the plant and stung any who touched it, and the roots were no longer huge but fine and hair-like.

The great changes in the plant caused fear in the people for a time. Eventually the people learned to respect the plant; harvesting only what they need and giving thanks. Seeds were scattered by the people again and helped the plant to grow into abundance. The plant kept its stinging hair, and even now people are reminded not to be greedy every time they are stung.”

Hans Christian Anderson

The most well known story including nettles is by Hans Christian Anderson called “The Wild Swans”. In the story a princess must weave a coat for each of her brothers without speaking a word; to break a curse that has turned them into swans.  Nettles can be put into use to make string, with which to create cloth, fishing nets, paper, sails, and textiles.

Ancient Medicine

Hippocrates and his followers had some 61 recipes that utilized the nettle. The Greek physician Galen attributed nettle as being diuretic and laxative, for gangrenous wounds, pneumonia, mouth sores, and many other ailments.

The Roman’s supposedly brought a nettle species to Britain to increase their circulation  so as to keep warm. An old saying that perhaps came from the Romans; “take nettles and seethe them in oil, smear and rub the body with, the cold will depart”.

Various Uses

The nettle’s animal totem is the serpent in some places, but Culpeper says it is ruled by the planet Mars and is hot and dry, both in the third degree. Some use nettle tea as they work though emotional or spiritual ordeals,  a nourishing tonic for one going through an ordeal. Citizens of ancient Egypt often used nettle tea for arthritis pains and lumbago.

Flogging one’s self with nettles is spoke of in many places, and today is recommended for arthritis. Historically Christians often practiced self flagellation with nettles to better find God. Ancient Greek women flogged themselves with nettles at Easter to remind themselves of Christ’s suffering. It is also  associated with lightning, as part of another version of the story above and linked to the God Thor. Nettle was thrown on fires during storms as offering to invoke protection.

Nettle is truly one of my most cherished plant allies.


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