I don't like stinging nettles. No childhood walk or picnic was ever free from that painful brush of its leaves across bare legs and the frantic search for a dock leaf to rub on the skin, in the forlorn hope of 'making it better'. Many of my adult gardening hours have been expended in trying to eradicate stinging nettles from our garden.
Yes I know nettles are valuable useful plants. My father taught me that nettles picked young make good soup. I believed him. He never demonstrated this truth, though he did advise how to pick them. Supposedly, if you grasp them firmly you don't get stung. I tried this. I got stung - clearly there's something lacking in my technique.
At the beginning of May every year I kid myself that this year I will gather young nettle leaves and cook with them. I never do. I heave a sigh of relief at the end of May each year because then the leaves will be too mature and not so suitable, so I can make do with spinach.
It's May again and I've just discovered a UK initiative to make 19-30 May 2010 a National Be Nice to Nettles Week. You can read about why and how you should be nice to nettles here. Apart from the valuable role that Urtica Dioca plays in the ecosystem (ladybird heaven apparently), it seems its usefulness for everyday human life is amazing. You can use it to eat (numerous recipes on the web), to drink (as tea or beer), to make fabrics, to heal, to make fertilizer, to accelerate composting...I could go on.
Piers Warren has listed over a hundred uses in his book 101 Uses for Stinging Nettles Sadly my attempts to rid the garden of nettles have been successful, but I'm sure they'll be back. Meanwhile I'm off for a walk across the fields. Should I take a bucket and a pair of tough gloves?