Why the nettle stings (003)

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In far gone times many tales about  good and evil, about God and the Devil were circulated. For instance, have you ever wondered why stinging nettles cause a stinging itchiness? The origins lie in a divinely inspired trick followed by devilish revenge. Listen to this tale of evil:

In the beginning when God created heaven and earth, He also provided food for men and animals. Grass seeds for the mice, acorns for the swine, alder seeds for the goldfinches and pinecones for the squirrels and woodpeckers. The devil also received his fair share: he was given buckwheat and oats and was thrilled to bits with them. Thousands of years later buckwheat and oats became the staple diet for people in The Low Countries. An angel who oversaw these goings-on from heaven hurried over to God: “Buckwheat and oats are part of these people’s staple diet. Things are going to take a turn for the worse, if they are dependent on the devil for their staple foods. Sooner or later he will abuse his rights for sure.”    

After careful consideration the angel left to visit the homelands of the devil and saw that he was still thrilled to bits with his buckwheat and oats. He was so pleased with his lot that he was singing to himself nearly the whole day: “Oats and buckwheat, buckwheat and oats, oats and buckwheat, buckwheat and oats.” The angel realized then that the devil was never simply going to part with these crops and thought up a clever switching trick. The angel went to the devil and said: “No, oh devil, these aren’t oats and buckwheat, but nettles and thistles.” The devil looked at her as if she had gone mad and went on singing; “Buckwheat and oats.” The angel kept on responding: ”Nettles and thistles, thistles and nettles,” all day long. One night when the devil had slept badly and heard the angel calling out again: “Nettles and thistles, thistles and nettles”, he became so confused that he sang back “Nettles and thistles, thistles and nettles.” The moment the devil sang this, the angel gave the devil the nettles and thistles and rushed off with the oats and the buckwheat, thereby safeguarding the staple food crops for the people of The Low Countries.                                                                                                            

In former times nettles were useful plants: people made ropes and cloth from them. When the devil discovered the switching trick, he was beside himself with rage. In revenge he added a fiery itch to the nettles.  Ever since then people sting their fingers when they pluck nettles and then they itch for hours. This is the fiery revenge which the devil added to the vital, many-sided nettle. Thereafter it was considered to be one of the devil’s plants. 

After touching stinging nettles our skin pricks and stings. But if you pick a stinging-nettle, grasp a leaf or leaves near the stem and pluck them with an upward movement, then you won’t sting yourself!   This is because the small needles containing the burning poisonous materials stand upright. Should you still manage to sting yourself, then it helps to rub your skin with the crushed leaves of plants growing nearby. Ground ivy and plantains help in particular. The itching fades quickly because these plants contain antibodies. Although not a popular plant, stinging-nettles have many uses. The new young top shoots in particular are used in soup and tea because of their cleansing properties. They contain vitamins A and C. Woods with an abundance of stinging-nettles are also home to many butterflies, including the red admiral, the peacock and the tortoiseshell. All these leave their eggs on stinging nettles. The caterpillars eat their fill of stinging nettle leaves. Various small birds such as the nightingale nest in the protective environment of stinging-nettle woods. The plant fibres can be used to weave nettle cloth for making into garments.

 

© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl

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