I looked down at the short scythe handle and across at the tall nettles.
“It will hurt,” I said. Then he looked at me with half a smile and a little shake of the head.
“You decide for yourself when it will hurt,” he said, suddenly getting serious. He walked over to the nettles and took hold of the smarting plants with his bare hands and began to pull them up with perfect calm, one after the other, throwing them into a heap, and he did not stop before he had pulled them all up.
~from the novel Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
In Maine there is a nettle patch not far from my cabin at the edge of the herb garden, bordering the forest. It is the first herb I harvest this spring with my neighbor and midwife-in-training Meredith Bliss Silver. It seems to like a little shade at the edge of this garden and the wildness the forest offers, as if to say its nature is not really that of a garden plant. In Europe, Asia, North America and Africa, women cut the Urtica with their bare hands. The simple, lance shaped, serrate leaves with their little stinging hairs scratch my hands. They tingle, itch, nettle and sting for days afterwards. I don’t really mind. Urtica dioica stings help prevent arthritis and increase circulation to the extremities. In the summer the flowers emerge, and then the seeds. The flowers are either male or female on one plant; it is dioecious, and they are tiny growing along the stem in tight axillary inflorescences. It smells deep.
I’ve been drinking nettle tea every day, and also boiling nettles as a steamed green several times a week. I feel as if i am in dialog with this particular patch of nettles. It feels as though I am locked in a dialog, almost as though I am becoming nettles. There is something particular about a patch – that grows wild, untended, not cultivated, and yet has a specific location that you go to, over and over for sustenance. It becomes not just about the plant, but about the place. It is not a rooting but a pulling, a recognition and exchange of force and strength.