Praising the Stinging Nettle

The stinging nettle is the only stinging plant in Great Britain.  Inevitably, it has found a place of honor in the English language (we are a language of metaphors and comparisons, what Rita Mae Brown called the gutteral speech of Anglo Saxon married to the music of Latin).

The ancient Romans used the stinging nettle in the steam-baths to whip the rheumatoid arthritis out of their joints (the hollow hairs inject irritant into the skin and provides temporary relief).  People have been enthusiastically eating it since its flavor-resemblance to spinach was noted, and there are still excellent textiles woven today of nettle fibers.

Nettles figure in the pagan Anglo-Saxon “Nine Herbs Charm” which is quite the recipe using common herbs and a beaten egg.  It is also used in the following delightful ways:

“To sit in nettles” a German phrase for those who seek out trouble (as if it won’t come a-calling on its own)!

“nettle”:  to annoy someone.

“to grasp the nettle” means to take up the problem that is being ignored…possibly related to Shakespeare’s Hotspur, who said,

“out of this nettle, (danger), we grasp this flower (safety)” (Henry IV, part 1, Act II Scene 3).

If one tries to grip the plant gingerly, they will be sincerely stung by the hollow stinging hairs.  But, if one grasps the nettle firmly, many of the hairs are crushed, preventing a large portion of the painful injection.  In other words, face a problem head-on, and it won’t hurt nearly as much.

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Published in: on October 11, 2009 at 4:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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