Nettles Counteract Love Medicine

09 Jul

Laportea aestuans


John and I had to postpone bot-projects until tomorrow, but no problem, I visited the Jupiter, Florida, Solid Waste Authority Transfer Station to drop off unused paint.  A trip to the dump reinforces a truth:   everywhere you go there’s botanical adventure to discover.   The interesting Solid Waste Authority weed is nettles, or to be exact West Indian wood nettles, as I just read, a weed of “Waste places.”  Sure enough.

Laportea leaves

West Indian Wood Nettle

The plant manual at my elbow sez the species is not native, but with weeds, well, often you don’t really know, and the Flora of North America, one of my favorite go-to authorities,  leaves the question open.   The species is in Florida, Tropical America, Africa, and into Asia.

That this locally unusual nettle was at the Solid Waste Authority was not coincidental.  Nettles reputedly like nitrogen and phosphorus in high doses,  including places where livestock or human manure have enriched moist, semi-shaded disturbed soils.    The colony at the waste transfer station spreads across a  moist slope just downhill from where garbage trucks tip their soggy loads for transfer to larger trucks…with a lot of stinky organic juice escaping.  You can smell it while photographing nettles.    The only other spot nearby where I’ve seen the same species was at the margin of a plant nursery where similarly N- and P- enriched water drains away.

Around here, this is our only species of stinging nettle in the true Nettle Family, although several non-stinging relatives are abundant.  But today’s feature attraction is the stinger, whose identity is confirmed by my right ankle and right forearm  smarting as I type.   How the sting happens is old hat for this blog.  CLICK

For simplicity I’m going to now speak of “nettles” lumping the related genera Laportea (alternate leaves) and Urtica (opposite leaves).  A local poser, false nettle Boehmeria cylindrica, is no threat to ankle safety.

Boehmeria cylindrica 2

False nettle by John Bradford

You could scarcely find plants with more historical uses in human medicine.  Nettles have a hundred attributed benefits, some of my favorites being abating hair loss,   boosting memory, stopping nosebleeds when inhaled as snuff, and, as noted by former local botanist Dan Austin,  to “counteract love medicine.” (Should that need arise, run to the Solid Waste Authority, stand in the nettle patch, and breath deeply…love medicine will wear off abruptly.)      Not my cup of tea, nettles, especially young ones, have long uses as potherbs, as tonics, and in beverages, probably not a great idea given the calcium oxalate and other toxins they bring to the table.

In a comment below Pat Bowman added an important old use for nettles:  as a source of vegetable rennt for cheese making.

Laportea hairs

The big hairs contain the ouch.

Related closely to the commercial fiber species ramie, which has escaped cultivation here in Florida, nettles are ancient sources of textile fibers, intertwined historically with flax and hemp.   Tibetan giant nettle (Giardinia diversifolia) is a cultivated nettle fiber in Nepal and beyond.

himalayan nettle shimmer green

Himalayan Yarn, from Tibetan Giant Nettle, by Shimmer Green, permitted use via Creative Commons

Now for the best part.   The flowers are separately male and female, in today’s species on the same plant.    Pollination is by wind, and the blossoms don’t merely drop their precious pollen passively onto the breeze.  Instead, they pop it out like little firecrackers.

Laportea female

Female flowers

Laportea male

Male flowers

You better enjoy this little video now, because I had to get down on my belly in the sting zone, in the garbage leachate,  with a Roseate Spoonbill and a Wood Stork as quiet witnesses to make this all possible.  So VIEW THIS…CLICK

And to wrap it up, nettles from a different angle, added in a comment by Leonore Alalniz:

Dense greenery
claims again that earthen-rich plot
and asks that I focus on re-emerging,
ever-present energy.

Aware of the initial sting
I settle
my mind and harvest bare-handed
first chlorophyll of Spring.

Into tissue beyond my skin
the Nettle
brings on summer’s heat ‘n pleasure
I longed for all Winter.



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9 responses to “Nettles Counteract Love Medicine

  1. Greg Braun

    July 9, 2016 at 6:38 am

    Great post, George. Thanks



    • George Rogers

      July 9, 2016 at 7:20 am

      Hey Greg, Howya doing! -George

  2. Pamela Lewis

    July 9, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Thank you for all the info on nettles. A few years ago we had moved into a new house in Texas and the backyard was full of the rangie bushes that had been allowed to take over. So I got out there and started pulling them up. Well I could have used this information then. My hands and arms were burning and red for almost a week. I have steered clear of all nettles since.

    • George Rogers

      July 9, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      Yea! Thye sring like bees don’t they!? Yesterday I decided to say, “oh well take one for the team,” so I waded in and actually laid down to take pictures. REgterring that!!! Twenty four hours later still with pins in my flesh! We shall both steer clear.

      • leonorealaniz

        July 9, 2016 at 9:55 pm

        You got enough heat to drive away a years worth of Arthritis…….

    • leonorealaniz

      July 9, 2016 at 9:53 pm

      Hello Pamela, being a botanical print maker and weed medicine woman, I can’t be silent: Please don’t eradicate all the nettles in your yard. They are your health allies. Harvest the whole stem and dry in bundles in the air. fumble up and drink as tea in winter, in combo with other herbs. Read online what they are good for. Harvest them with gloves. Steam leaves for a minute, then cut small or leave whole; use in soup or salad. They are LOADED with nutrients, and will not hurt your mouth/tongue once dried, steamed. I make raw juice and toss them whole into green smoothies. Nettles are blood cleansers and liver rejuvenators. don’t use harvest near dump site , not within 500 feet of roads.

  3. leonorealaniz

    July 9, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Fun as usual, your descriptions and video here! May I add my poem about the nettle?
    Here my poem about The Nettle’s sting:

    Dense greenery
    claims again that earthen-rich plot
    and asks that I focus on re-emerging,
    ever-present energy.

    Aware of the initial sting
    I settle
    my mind and harvest bare-handed
    first chlorophyll of Spring.

    Into tissue beyond my skin
    the Nettle
    brings on summer’s heat ‘n pleasure
    I longed for all Winter.

    • George Rogers

      July 9, 2016 at 12:36 pm

      Leonore! Soooooooooo glad to hear from you, and I love the poem. Am I correct that you wrote it? It goes into the post credited to you. And speaking of your talents, because here you are in thought and poem, I went to your web site and had special appreciation of those beautiful prints. Make more! I’ve been making linocuts..newbie!…but one benefit of even clumsy artistic efforts is enhanced appreciation of prints like yours.

  4. theshrubqueen

    July 9, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    George, you are truly dedicated. The remnants of my nettle encounter lasted about a week. These are unrelated to our Tread Softly?


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