"Leaders Grasp Nettles"

November 08, 2018

Nettles_DSCN6946 cropped (3)

Photographer: Rob Sheridan 
Summary Author: Rob Sheridan 

This quotation from the British military officer David Ogilvy is one of many folksy sayings involving the ubiquitous stinging nettle. Urtica dioica is a tall, rugged weed with an amazing background in folklore, medicine, textiles, nutrition, fine cuisine, and even competitive eating. Found nearly worldwide, its five stinging subspecies diffusely present fine, but sharp, hollow hairs (trichomes) on stems and leaves that inject a cocktail of irritating chemicals.

In folktales and Bible stories stinging nettles serve as a metaphor for life’s difficulties. Even Shakespeare used this simile. Taking care to work around nettles’ painful defensive mechanism, people throughout recorded history have used nettle extracts as a tea and medication for a variety of ailments. Pulverizing the stems produces a durable fiber used to manufacture rope and textiles. Due to wartime shortages of cotton, nettle fibers became the base for German military uniforms during the First World War. The leaves are packed with beneficial nutritional substances and the stems with protein.

Stinging nettles are used in a variety of sophisticated recipes. And in recent years, a raw nettle consumption competition takes place in England, with winners bearing the pain as they consume the raw leaves from upwards of 70 feet ( m) of nettle stems. This photograph of a flowering Urtica dioica illustrates the fine hairs on stems and distinct serrated leaves, primed to defend the plant from a curious hand. Photo taken on June 17, 2018.

Photo Details: Camera: NIKON COOLPIX AW120; Software: Windows Photo Editor 10; Exposure Time: 0.0031s (1/320); Aperture: ƒ/4.4; Focal Length (35mm): 56.