No one knows quite why nettle stings hurt so much or last so long. Nettles are covered with tiny hollow hairs, which break off when touched and act like needles - injecting a cocktail of unpleasantness into your skin. It used to be thought that formic acid was the main culprit, but that's no longer believed to be the case. Scientists are still trying to isolate all the ingredients of nettle stings, but they are known to contain histamine - and serotonin, normally associated with feelings of well being, but in this instance acting as an irritant.
In Britain, it's traditional to apply a dock leaf to a nettle sting but, beyond a possible placebo effect, there’s no known reason why it would help. It’s often said dock sap is alkaline and counters the acid of the sting - but in fact dock sap isn’t alkaline. Others say dock contains a natural anti-histamine, but there's no evidence that this is true either. Your best bet for a nettle sting is probably anti-histamine or corticosteroid cream, or perhaps calamine lotion.
Nettles are found all over the world and have long been used as a vegetable. The 10-foot-tall New Zealand Giant Nettle (Urtica ferox) is called ongaonga in Maori. Maoris eat them and use them as medicine - despite the fact that its stings are so strong that five of them can kill a guinea pig, and it has caused at least one human death.
On the island of Timor in south-east Asia, one species of nettle causes lockjaw and a painful burning sensation, both of which can last for days or weeks. A native species on the island of Java produces similar, but more potent results that can last for months and has caused the death of some of victims.
Out of this nettle - danger - we pluck this flower - safety.
Better be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo.
'Urtification' is beating yourself with stinging nettles. Roman soldiers in Britain (who introduced nettles to Britain by bringing their seeds with them) used to do it to relieve the pain of arthritis brought on by the damp climate, and some people still do today. In 2000, the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine confirmed that it is a safe and effective treatment for rheumatic pain, though no one really knows why it works.
Other health benefits of stinging nettle include its ability to detoxify the body, improve metabolic efficiency, boost immune health, increase circulation, improve energy levels, manage menstruation, minimize menopausal symptoms, heal skin conditions, protect kidney and gallbladder health, lower inflammation, increase muscle mass, regulate hormonal activity, prevent diabetes, lower blood pressure, soothe haemorrhoids, and improve respiratory conditions.
Nettles have long been used to make fabrics. In Denmark, burial shrouds made of nettle fabrics have been discovered that date back to the Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC).
Europeans and Native Americans used the fibres from stinging nettle to make sailcloth, sacking, cordage, and fishing nets. These fibres have also been used to produce cloth similar in feel and appearance to silky linen. During World War I, the Germans used nettles as a substitute for cotton. And at the beginning of the Second World War, a request by the British government was made for the collection of 100 tons of nettles, which were used for the extraction of green dye for camouflage.
Marijuana, mulberries, hops, elms and figs are all kind of nettle.
Marshwood near Crewkerne is home to the world nettle-eating championships.
Nettles grow much higher above sites where bodies are buried - this fact was used to find victims of the Srebrenica massacre.
The current nettle-eating record is 74 feet for men, and 26 feet for women.
The Latin for the Nettle plant is ‘dioica’ meaning ‘two houses’ because the male and female flowers form on separate plants.
The butterflies red admirals, painted ladies, peacocks, small tortoiseshells and commas are particularly fond of nettles.
Nettle leaves can be used to pack fruit. They help to keep it fresh by stopping the formation of mould.
Ladybirds often grow and develop on nettles where they are protected from predators.