Pure, dried nettle leaf (no stings)
If you’re reading this, I already respect you. Nettle infusion, with its bracing, vegetable flavour, similar to spinach, is not to be drunk half-heartedly. But if you can learn to love it, you may reap the benefits of one of England’s oldest folk remedies.
Since Roman times, whether drunk as a cordial or used for their stings, nettles have been a popular treatment for a number of conditions, especially inflammatory ailments such as rheumatism, arthritis and eczema. Poor Roman soldiers stationed in Britannia, accustomed to the Mediterranean climate rather than damp, miserable Londinium, reportedly whipped each other’s legs with nettle branches to ‘keep warm’.
In a similar vein, many cultures have long associated the nettle with ascetic, noble suffering for an eventual reward (and sometimes plain masochism). In the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Wild Swans, for example, a princess has to weave eleven coats of nettles for her eleven brothers after they have been turned into birds by a nasty spell.
In the middle ages, a famous Tibetan monk called Milarepa was said to have subsisted on nothing but nettle tea for decades, living until the age of 83. He is depicted in Tibetan artwork with slightly greenish skin.
Then there is the World Nettle-Eating Championship in Somerset. Villagers have gathered every year since 1986 to compete to see who can eat the most stinging nettle leaves. The plucky competitors ... Hang on a minute... 1986?? Surely that’s far too recent for such a moronic village tradition. These things are supposed to be centuries old – that’s the only reason to keep bothering, isn’t it? You mean to say that while other villagers were listening to Foreigner and Level 42 these people went outside to eat nettles? Or is that a fully justified reaction?
These days, it is not just herbalists promoting nettles; initial scientific studies have suggested the folk remedies may have a medical basis, supporting the idea that nettle infusion may help the symptoms of arthritis and other conditions. The plant is also a source of several vitamins and anti-oxidants, adding to its appeal for the health-conscious.
Which just leaves one question: Nettles are to be found growing in most back gardens and overgrown thickets. Why can’t you go and pick them for yourself? Because you’re out running and stuff, that’s why.