While clearing around the opening to the well from which we filled our pond a clumsy slip and stumble resulted in a red blistered face coupled with the sharp burning pain of nettle stings.
The nettle grows in almost every corner and every ditch here, but if your going to brush with the nettle you’d best do so with intent, it doesn’t suffer half hearted follies!
Its stems and leaves are lined with minute hairs which become hypodermic needles that will deliver the harsh stinging chemicals to any who brush against it lightly or carelessly.
These hairs are flattened if the nettle is grasped firmly rendering them harmless as they can no longer pierce the skin or deliver the sting, this is where the phrase to “grasp the nettle” arises from.
This fiercely boundaried pioneering plant grows in abundance wherever it is given the slightest opportunity.
It is often associated with dereliction as it is one of the first plants that will aggressively inhabit vacant or disused plots and buildings.
But aside from its protective sting, the nettle has many incredibly useful and beneficial properties. In fact we have a well established and longstanding relationship with this versatile and hardy plant.
The nettle has been used for textiles, rope making, paper making, as a dye, an insect repellant, as green manure and as a medicine and nutritional supplement.
Nettles are one of the most nutritious readily available wild plants.
They have an antihistamine effect and can be used for treatment of allergies and hay fever.
They have also been used for their anti inflammatory properties in traditional recipes to treat rheumatism all over Europe.
They are high in iron, chlorophyll, minerals and vitamin C. The leaves should be harvested and consumed before the plant has flowered, and have traditionally been taken as a spring tonic to cleanse the blood.
In many places consuming nettles in early May was advocated, and nettles were even celebrated as with “Nettlemas night” in parts of Cork which was celebrated on the eve before the first of May, and also in parts of England where the 1st of May was known as ‘stinging nettle day”
Nettle seeds are also very nutritious. They can be picked dried and consumed as a tasty snack or added to other foods as a condiment. They have numerous health benefits and when taken as a supplement can have a whole myriad of benefits.
The Romans even used nettle seeds as an aphrodisiac.
As a source of fibre for textiles the nettle has been used since prehistory. Plant fibre textile production in Europe has long been associated with the development of agriculture through the use of cultivated textile plants such as flax and hemp.
However an investigation of a 2800 year old bronze age textile find from Voldtofte in Denmark identified the fabric as having been made from nettle fibres. They could even identify that the nettles were imported from a nearby region where there was known to be production of flax at the time. It can be assumed therefore that the nettle fibre was intentionally used for its specific properties.
There are also a host of other creatures who take sustenance from the nettle, caterpillars, aphids, ladybirds to name but a few, and it is said that the nettle was one of three plants that saved many from starvation during the “great famine”.
Is Neantóg Mise
To some I am harsh and abrasive,
To some I am soft like a down,
Some call me unwelcome, invasive,
Some say I could lift any frown.
Some grasp me loosely
Like a half hearted handshake
Some firmly with whole hand and heart.
But when you return
To forsaken dreamworlds
You’ll find legions of me standing guard.
So smile when you see me
Hold on with no fear
I’ve kept space for you
While I rooted right here.
THE NETTLE DRESS
A modern-day fairytale and hymn to the healing power of nature and slow craft.
Textile artist Allan Brown spends seven years making a dress from scratch, using only the fibre of locally foraged stinging nettles. This is ‘hedgerow couture’, the greenest of slow fashion.
It is also the medicine that helps Allan survive the death of his wife, Alex, which leaves him and their four children bereft.
‘Grasping the Nettle’ is at the heart of this story. The challenge of making zero carbon clothing means relearning ancient crafts: foraging, spinning, weaving, cutting and sewing.
For Allan, making a dress this way becomes devotional and healing.
‘While making the dress over all these years, I felt like I was being transformed by the nettles rather than the other way around,’ says Allan. ‘When Alex was ill and going through chemotherapy, as soon as I began spinning yarn, I felt calmer. It became much more than just a piece of cloth; it’s been woven with the stories of people who know and love you.’
The dress took seven years to complete and is made using 14,400 feet of thread, with each one representing hours of loving attention. Finally, the dress is worn in the woods where the nettles were picked, by Oonagh, one of Allan’s daughters.
Director Dylan Howitt says: ‘There’s a rich history of textiles across the UK and today so many people are involved in the revival of foraging, traditional crafts and looking at how to make things in a more sustainable way. The Nettle Dress is part of that conversation.
We thrilled to be screening this film in our showrooms on Saturday 21st October for one night only.
We have limited seating so booking essential.
Book your seats here: