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Stinging Nettle Urtica Dioica Fam: Labiatae

The old gardeners who use the plots next to mine look askance at the small plot of nettles growing purposefully under the blackcurrant bushes, for which they are said to be a companion plant. Certainly my bushes are high yielders, neither are they stolen by blackbirds, who tend to jump from the ground to get the currants!. They can't do this through the mass of nettles, but come harvesting time, I just cut the nettles and either leave them to rot in situ or put them on the compost heap, and pick in comfort.

Nettle are in leaf early in the year, and attract specific aphids to them, which helps the ladybird population to increase to battalion strength, ready to combat other aphids on later unwilling hosts like beans and roses. They are also food for the black hairy caterpillars of the peacock butterfly, which is another good reason for having them growing.

Nettles were once used for making fibres using the same method which is used to produce linen from flax, and in the fairy story in which a princess has to make nettle shirts for her enchanted brothers, it is this fibre which is being referred to and not the leaves!! Some attempts in the past to grow nettles on a large scale have been successful, but the crop requires a high nitrogen input as from manure etc, and some attempts met with abject failure.

Nettles are a commercial source of chlorophyll.

Containing many useful vitamins, minerals and other substances, the nettle is probably best known for its use as the first available green vegetable of the year - eaten for centuries as a tonic and blood purifier. The young leaves can be dried and used as a tea all year round, or added to soups and stews if you want to feed it to those reluctant to eat nettles.

Most herbivorous animals will eat nettles which have been cut and wilted, but my goats used to eat them as they stood, sting and all, whilst I looked on and winced for them. These same animals used to eat thistles too, albeit *very* carefully!

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