Nettles in folklore

Nettles in folklore

Nettle, both stinging and non-stinging (sometimes called "dead-nettles"), have many folklore traditions associated with them.

Myths from ancient days

Fabric woven of nettle fiber has been found in burial sites dating back to the Bronze Age.

Milarepa, the great Tibetan ascetic and saint, was reputed to have survived his decades of solitary meditation by subsisting on nothing but nettles; his hair and skin turned green and he lived to the age of 83.

Myths about health and wealth

Nettles in a pocket will keep a person safe from lightning and bestow courage.

Nettles kept in a room will protect anyone inside. (This may have arisen from common knowledge of the tremendous amount of nutrients nettles offer, making them a powerful plant in that sense.)

Arthritic joints were sometimes treated by whipping the joint with a branch of stinging nettles. The theory was that it stimulated the adrenals and thus reduced swelling and pain in the joint.

Nettles are reputed to enhance fertility in men, and fever could be dispelled by plucking a nettle up by its roots while reciting the names of the sick man and his family.

Turkey and other poultry (as well as cows and pigs) are said to thrive on nettles, and ground dried nettle in chicken feed will increase egg production. [ [ Moody, Barb. "The Stinging Truth About Nettles."] ]

A distillation of the flowers of the White Archangel, or white dead-nettle (Lamium album) is reputed "to make the heart merry, to make a good colour in the face, and to make the vital spirits more fresh and lively." [ [, "NETTLE, WHITE DEAD"] ]

In 1926, the Royal Horticultural Society's recommendation for getting rid of nettles was to cut them down three times in three consecutive years, after which they will disappear.

Literature and poetry

An old Scots rhyme about the nettle:

:"Gin ye be for lang kail coo the nettle, stoo the nettle:Gin ye be for lang kail coo the nettle early:Coo it laich, coo it sune, coo it in the month o' June:Stoo it ere it's in the bloom, coo the nettle early:Coo it by the auld wa's, coo it where the sun ne'er fa's:Stoo it when the day daws, coo the nettle early.":("Old Wives Lore for Gardeners", M & B Boland)

Coo, cow, and stoo are all Scottish for cut back or crop (although, curiously, another meaning of "stoo" is to throb or ache), while "laich" means short or low to the ground. [ [ Dictionary of the Scots Language (online)] ] Given the repetition of "early," presumably this is advice to harvest nettles first thing in the morning and to cut them back hard (which seems to contradict the advice of the Royal Horticultural Society] .

The Caribbean trickster figure Anansi appears in a story about nettles, in which he has to chop down a huge nettle patch in order to win the hand of the king's daughter. [ [ Caribbean folktales] ] . In Hans Christian Andersen's fairy-tale "The Wild Swans," the princess had to weave coats of nettles to break the spell on her brothers.


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