Friday, 19 June 2009

Stinging!

A common and usually unwelcome sight to many of us has to be the Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). But, as we have seen so often before, look a little closer and the true beauty of these plants is revealed.

Stinging Nettles are 'monoecious' meaning that there are male and female flowers on the same plant. They spread - as any gardener will tell you - by means of underground stems or rhizomes and can be extremely prolific. The stems and leaves are covered in hairs, mostly non-stinging, but interspersed with the all too familiar stinging ones, known as trichomes. the tips of these stinging hairs come off when touched and inject a compound of chemicals into your skin including acetylcholine (which acts on the body's nervous system), histamine (inducing swelling from allergic reaction), serotonin (again acting on the nervous system) and probably formic acid. No wonder it hurts!
The flowers are feathery and quite glorious when seen close up.

Nettles have been used medicinally for hundreds (if not thousands) of years as a treatment for arthritic conditions, anemia, hay fever, kidney problems, heart failure and as a diuretic. It is thought that nettle extracts can be helpful in the treatment of eczema.
Also widely eaten, nettles taste a bit like spinach and are famously rich in iron,potassium, manganese, and calcium as well as vitamins A,C and D.
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