Nettle folklore

19 May 2008 by John

We’ve just received an interesting memoir for the Botany library with the intriguing title “Naughty Man’s Plaything”. It is by Roy Vickery, who works in the Botany Department at the Natural History Museum, London and is illustrated by Len Ellis. It’s all about the folklore and uses of stinging nettles in Britain, and covers their uses for food (for humans), beer, food (for turkeys), medicine, plus a long section containing sayings about nettles and their local names. Each story is referenced to its source, making this a valuable addition to our economic botany literature.

One of my childhood memories is going out with my mother picking nettle tips in springtime, from which she made nettle pudding – essentially porridge mixed with nettles. Once cooked, they don’t sting and in fact they are very nourishing, particularly at a time of year when there aren’t many fresh vegetables to be had from your garden. Nettle pudding is a Northern speciality; a similar concoction known as Spring pudding was mentioned in the memoirs of Bernard Ingham, who was born in Hebden Bridge, not far from my own birthplace in Burnley. This was made from Bistort.

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