I'm writing this blog in summer - not a time to eat stinging nettles (urtica dioica), despite the Dorset Nettle Eating Competition held every July (read the important information on When Not to Eat Nettles to find out why not). However, nettles have many other virtues beyond food.
I am in love with nettles (still), and am a self-proclaimed advocate of this valuable and humble plant. Why? Because it has so many uses. I have written before, many times, about nettles, including A Dozen Ways to Cook Nettles, my famous Honey and Nettle Cake, and if you want to go back to the beginning of my journey; I'm in Love with Nettles.
Though this blog is about something else.
It's about using nettles as fibre for clothing. Years ago, when I did a course in Native Skills with the company Native Awareness I learnt to make string out of nettle fibres. That year I had many long train journeys, and using the time to prepare and weave the long fibres of the nettle stems into a large ball of nettle string felt like a comforting, meditative and satisfying use of my time. You see, nettle fibres are extremely strong and spending time working with a plant helps to get to know their qualities even better.
It was many years before this though, that I took a trip to London to see an exhibition that celebrated nettles. There, I saw my first Nettle Shawl - a beautifully soft, lacy looking shawl made from the stinging nettles of the Himalayas, by the people of Nepal.
(Nepalese tribal women wearing shawls woven from nettle fibres)
This versatile plant can produce strong nettle fibres and fine, linen-like fibres, which preceded the use of silk in Poland in the 17th century. Nettle fabric was also used to make army uniforms in the 2nd World War. In Scotland it was known as Scots cloth up until the 1800s.
For me, plants are interesting, useful and to be valued. When I read about, touch, eat, see or interact with a plant in some way, it is an opportunity to appreciate it. From the first time I touched the fabric of a nettle shawl, to making a ball of nettle string to discovering the beautiful clothing made from nettles, I find myself in awe of this humble plant. I'm in love with nettles and will continue teaching about them, using them and celebrating them.
More blogs, including recipes, facts and tips about nettles here; Stinging Nettle Blog