Week 29 of the PBP.
The whole plant is downy, and also covered with stinging hairs. Each sting is a very sharp, polished spine, which is hollow and arises from a swollen base. In this base, which is composed of small cells, is contained the venom, an acrid fluid, the active principle of which is said to be bicarbonate of ammonia. When, in consequence of pressure, the sting pierces the skin, the venom is instantly expressed, causing the resultant irritation and inflammation. —Grieve 1931
It’s an interesting bit of timing that this is the week of the nettle as one of my son’s playmates had her first encounter with one down in the conservation land on Tuesday. When I first got stung bicycling along a dirt road in the French countryside, the woman who was watching me grabbed a handful of road dust and rubbed it furiously over the sting. She said in very broken English that this removed the stingers and made the pain fade faster. I did the same for my son’s friend, now 25 years later, and it seemed to do the trick!
On the one hand, I felt terribly that she had been stung, on the other hand, I was excited to find them on our land as I hadn’t discovered a source for them yet. People complain about nettles, but frankly, I’d take a nettle sting over poison ivy any day—nettles may hurt a bit more in the short term, but they don’t leave you itching for weeks.
Nettles have a long history with humankind. Grieve details some of this:
The common name of the Nettle, or rather its Anglo-Saxon and also Dutch equivalent, Netel, is said to have been derived from Noedl (a needle), possibly from the sharp sting, or, as Dr. Prior suggests, in reference to the fact that it was this plant that supplied the thread used in former times by the Germanic and Scandinavian nations before the general introduction of flax, Net being the passive participle of ne, a verb common to most of the Indo-European languages in the sense of ‘spin’ and ‘sew’ (Latin nere, German na-hen, Sanskrit nah, bind). Nettle would seem, he considers, to have meant primarily that with which one sews.
Nettle is also one of the plants mentioned in the 9 Herbs Charm:
Nettle it is called, it attacks against poison,
it expels malignant things, casts out poison.
This is the herb that fought against the serpent,
this avails against poison, it avails against contagion,
it avails against the loathsome one who travels through the land.
Magically speaking, I associate nettle with Fire and Mars; Cunningham does as well, and cites it as being an herb of protection/curse removal, purification, and healing (2003, 183). Nettle along with ginger, holly, mistletoe, pimpernel and wolfsbane can be used in the consecration of ritual knives (Beyerl 1984). The Carr-Gomms view nettle as being an herb of transmutation, its irritating quality concealing its valuable gifts (2007, 84).