Today the nettle bears a bad reputation – it is considered to be a noxious weed and an evil, stinging plant, to be eradicated from our gardens. However, this reputation is very far from being deserved.
Our ancestors regarded the nettle in an altogether different light and until recent times it was used extensively, both for its nutritious and medical value for humans and as an animal fodder. It was a vitamin rich food in the Spring when vitamin C is scarce and was added to the feed of horses, pigs and poultry to keep them in good condition.
The nettle is sacred to Thor. Indeed, in some Northern European rural areas, even today, the nettle is thrown on the fire during a thunder storm to ward of lightning strike.
Nettles provide the food for a number of insects and are the only food for the caterpillar of the beautiful Atlanta, Paphia and Urtica Butterflies and the main food for the Io.
Today we can take advantage of the wisdom of our ancestors by using the young nettle shoots in spring as a tasty and invigorating food – cooked in soups and stews, as a spinach or brewed as a tea. It is also used to brew nettle beer.
The whole plant is medicinal and is used as a general tonic and is beneficial to sufferers of anaemia, sciatica, arthritis and rheumatism. As a hair wash it is a conditioner and a cure for dandruff. Heated gently in wine it can cure diarrhoea and the juice of the leaves snuffed up the nose will stop a nose bleed.
Nettle fibre is tough and fine and has been used to make nets and ropes and even in recent times has been made into excellent cloth.