Stinging Nettles – Who needs them?

Thursday 31st May

I can remember as a child growing up in Suffolk there were stinging nettles everywhere.  There seemed to be massed ranks of the monsters along all the roadsides, and in every bit of woodland and small copses the ground was covered with them.  You learnt pretty early to avoid them as the merest touch of those serrated leaves was like being bitten by a wasp, a sharp and nasty sting.  We also learnt that dock leaves were natures antidote, so would rub furiously with a dock leaf until it disintegrated and spread green gunk all over your ankles.  But sometimes stingers, as we called them, were unavoidable; why was it that the football always ended up in a clump of stingers, or the short cuts were overgrown with them.  We used to carry a switch, a short piece of whippy tree branch to bash them down and would carve out a pathway just wide enough to make our way through the giant triffid-like creatures, heads nodding in the breeze, but inevitably you would still get stung.   Often on returning home from hours of play we would be covered in white lumps surrounded by a red and itching patch of skin, almost displaying our war wounds with some sort of pride.   But apart from keeping small boys away from anything like having fun what use are stinging nettles; do they actually hold some important rank in the food chain, and without their vicious little barbs the whole ecology of Britain would come tumbling down and we would end up starving.  I doubt it.  But they are actually the most resilient of weeds; if you get some in your garden, (and you will) you can snip them back all you like but in a couple of weeks they will return.  You can don thick leather gloves and try to pull them out by the roots, but they are connected by subterraneous runners and simply pop up again a few feet away.

One of my very pet hates – stinging nettles, who needs them?  Manufacturers of nettle soup exempted.

The flowers of stinging nettle are inconspicuous.