A European folktale tells of a woman
whose brothers had been turned into swans. In order to return them to
human form, she had to knit them coats of "unspoken" nettles - the
plants were harvested from a graveyard at night, and she was not
permitted to speak to anyone until the coats were done. I wonder if
this folktale is really describing death and resurrection rather than
transformation from swans to men.
The use of "unspoken" nettles for curative purposes occurred in
Scotland as well as
other north countries. In Ireland, nettles marked the places where the
Elves lived and could
protect a person from sorcery. If cows were fed wilted nettles, witches and
trolls could not hex them to stop producing milk, so this is quite a
protective herb, despite its association with death and burial. Indeed,
according to contemporary belief, nettle carried on the person
protects from lightning - and draws money. On the other hand, the Iroquois said
that nettles mixed with the dried blood of a snake was witchcraft
medicine. Perhaps in keeping with its
Mars rulership, nettle is sometimes incorporated into rituals of
ordeal. For instance, children who wished to study witchcraft in the Kawaiisu
tribe had to walk through nettles as practice. In some traditions, nettles are
added to the water in which a new
athame is consecrated. Nettle also plays a role in fishing magick,
probably because it was once spun into string for fishing nets. It
would make a great tool for knot magic. Nettle is one of the herbs in
the Nine Herbs Charm, and it is a candidate for the herb olieribos
mentioned in the Necronomicon. It is connected to Scorpio.Top
magick herb also has been associated with death and burial customs. Bronze Age
burial cloths have been found that were woven of its
fibers. In the highlands and on the islands of Ireland, people believed
nettles grew from the bodies of the dead. In Denmark, people
thought that nettles grew from the blood of innocent victims. Welsh folk believed that if fresh nettles
put under the pillow of a
sick person stayed green, the person would live, and if they turned
yellow, that person would die. Top
Nettle is a great textile plant. The fibers in the stalks are stronger than flax and when
spun and woven look similar to
hemp. Up until 19th century nettle fibers were still being woven into household
articles and fishing nets in Scotland. To get long, straight stalks good for fiber harvest, grow in
plenty of moisture and very rich soil.
The aerial parts of this herb make a green dye on wool, black when iron is the mordant. The roots make a gold
dye with alum. Dyeing nettle fibers themselves is similar to dyeing cotton.
Nettle was planted recently at a New York memorial to those who died in
the Great Famine in Ireland (there are many people of Irish descent in
NY), because it was one of the few things the Irish had to eat at that
spring tops are good cooked (cooking or drying destroys the spines).
Later growth is tough and gritty. Nettle has many medicinal uses (it has a lot
of vitamins and minerals), and
Gypsies supposedly planted them everywhere they went for that reason.
stings can supposedly be eased by rubbing them with nettle
juice, dock leaves, jewelweed, rosemary, mint, or sage leaves. Nettle
is also known as the devil's claw and the devil's plaything. Top
The stinging hairs of
this plant are composed of silica (glass) and
break off in the
skin, injecting a venom. The spines can go through light clothing or cotton
Handle nettles with heavy gloves, and don't
allow animals to romp in them, although most animals have much more
sense than to do so, and the plants have low toxicity for animals.
There is one report of hunting dogs
that died after spending some time blundering around in what was
thought to be a large nettle patch, but there is some question about
whether the plants they were affected by were actually Urtica dioica. Even
if you are growing this for fiber, you wouldn't grow it in dense
stands anyhow. Plants grown in shady areas have fewer needles than those grown in sun.
Purple stalks mean more needles. Some people are very sensitive to this plant and will have a rash for
several days after encountering it. Top
How to Grow Nettles
Barely cover seeds to germinate in 10-14 days at room temperature.
Start in spring. Transplant to full sun/partial shade, spacing
transplants 8-12"/20cm-30cm apart. Nettles get 30-60"/75cm-150cm high.
They are perennial down to -30F/-30C and can grow in warm climates as well.
Plants can have male or female flowers, and they also reproduce through
underground runners that can grow 5 ft/1.5m per year, so be careful in
situating them. Pick just before the flowers open.
Wear heavy gloves and don't allow animals to romp in nettles. It is probably
best to plant them in a container given their rampant nature anyhow.
Caterpillars of various butterflies like to eat nettles. General growing
Witchcraft & Magic:
Get some dried
© 2006, 2013 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission