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Stinging Nettles

Updated on December 10, 2008

When I just arrived UK, among other shocks from such as language and culture, I was quite shocked by different trees, shrubs and vegetables. One of those plants is stinging nettle. It's so common in Britain - on wasteland, road verges and gardens, sometimes called the common nettle.

The stinging nettle looks like ramie. My parents planted them as a fabric source when I was a child. When harvested, bundles of ramie were soaked in water for months to remove a gum substance from the fibres. Then my mum used a special scraper to take off skins, dried in sunlight and ready for weaving into cloth.

It's said that if you want somebody to remember you forever, hurt him badly. It's quite true in this case. When I worked in a Chinese herb medicine train shop in London as stock manager, I sorted, packed and distributed herbs medicine in the back garden which used as warehouse. Of course I never knew how painful and irritable a stinging nettle could cause. I rolled up my sleeve because of the hot weather and busy sorting and packing herbs, when I passed a cluster of nettle, ouch! I felt a painful sting and an irritating rash appeared. I rubbed my skin and looked into the leaves, and couldn't find any nasty bugs, then I realized this plant leaves and stems might have caused this painful stinging. Now I know that the stems and the leaves are covered with tiny hairs containing formic acid. If you touch them, the hairs break and release the acid into the skin which can cause a painful, irritating rash.

I can't imagine this stinging nettles have a lot of uses, both as a vitamin-rich vegetable and for medicinal purposes. British used to eat nettles mixed with the white of an egg before bed time, and believed to help sleep!

FIY: Ramie has been termed 'the flax of the east' as it is most common in China Asia. When woven into fabric its qualities are much like flax in terms of lustre and strength. It also creases easily and has a similarly smooth texture take keeps dirt off. Ramie textiles are particularly renowned for keeping their shape well, but it is not a very flexible fibre, which makes it prone to breaking in highly stressed places, such as crease folds. Unlike flax it takes well to dyes. Fine quality Ramie fabric has a silken appearance. It is usually blended with cotton to create mixed material garments. Ramie has a disadvantage compared to other fibre plants - it needs to undergo a chemical process in order remove a gum substance from the fibres. On the other hand, it can sustain between three and six harvests a year, depending on weather and growing conditions.

Stinging Nettles
Stinging Nettles

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