This is not the Glen, but a response to river sounds and echoes in the flow, surface and depth, the here and now reaching out to a connection with passing through, feelings about rivers…water under the bridge
FotG met for our last Sunday of the month clean up in the Glen, after a break in July. There wasn’t much cleaning up to be done, any persistent rubbish is layered below the growth right now, and the surface stuff is under control. So we decide to shift our movements next month West to The Bride.
The Glen river runs into The Bride. They meet in Blackpool, conjoined they flow together as the tiny River Kiln before spilling into The Lee and heading Eastwards to the sea at Cork Harbour. The part where Glen meets Bride happens under the city ground and there are still some places we can see them move, gaps in the concrete.
The Bride has 350 metres of open air at Blackpool, where she is banked by mature trees, a magnificent Willow with her summer curtain of billowing leaves, tall Limes and Sycamores all grand and green majesty, they have at least as much Temple Quality as Seamus Murphy(the celebrated sculptor)’s Mexican influenced Church of the Annunciation in the village. The river is also banked by railings erected to prevent human access to the river in one direction and by a concrete barrier to prevent river access to the human development in the other. These demarcations overlap, and in the intersection bulging nappies and other bits of organic and non organic household waste fill the gap and overflow onto both sides.
This small but significant section of the open river is threatened by development, the plan is to transmogrify the interface between living city and living natural world into concrete. Concrete is the OPW’s default response to the problem of flooding in urban areas. There were once barriers in the river here, grills put in place to stem the flow of mattresses, sofas, bicycles, and other human waste cast into the flow of waters from The Glen. These off-casts gathered at the grills which, once erected, were neglected by the city council and soon the debris built up, creating blockages, and a backlog of water led the Bride burst her banks at the barrier at the Church of the Annunciation at the heart of the village. The flooding caused too much damage for the insurance companies, who recoiled, and local businesses were left in the lurch. Flooding happened again and again and so the barriers were removed. Since then the flooding has stopped, but there is still fear. The OPW have offered their default solution – concrete – cover over the river, culvert the lot, apparently it seems out of sight out is out of mind. All mature trees will have to go and there will be no more open river in Blackpool, no river bank, no visible river life, no otters, dippers, herons and other wildlife and no consideration for an ecosystem above and below the concrete.
This part of The Bride has been an important breeding ground and nursery for otters in the river Lee catchment, the females retreating here with their young to raise them until they are strong enough to fend for themselves among the male otter population. There are strong objections from resident naturalists to the OPW’s plan, they propose a Sustainable Drainage Sytem (SuDS) upstream to regain some flood plain and slow the water, and costing far less in financial terms than the 20 million euro concrete plan. The concrete plan already has the go ahead and the push from some powerful local representatives. Meantime the litter and household waste builds up in an area of natural beauty that is bounded and kept at bay by regulations on all sides.
I was brought here by Glen walker L and her doggie S, we saluted the heron under the bridge and eyed the tabby cat who had hunkered down on the grass for the afternoon. Boy kids of a variety of ages, some of them recent immigrants to Cork, were happily playing ball in the street near what was once the playground, now an empty and unpopulated section of urban play space, surfaced as far as the river bank with its interlocking barriers in concrete. The Blackberries that spill out from all edges remain on the bushes unpicked.
I have been picking from the hedgerows in passing and enjoying a tasty mouthful, not meaning to gather, just participating in a share of the abundance. I notice that the Blackberries are shrinking into little purple nuts on the vine and I so decide to gather some while they are juicy in the sun. Too often blackberries are lost to mush in the rain and this year the unusual expanse of sunny August days has led to a plumping and ripening in huge abundance. As I pick my fingers purple, their tips pricked with tiny spines, there’s an absence of wasps but as I reach out I trace the movement of shield beetles as they amble shyly away . In one bush there’s a flutter of wings as I disturb a blackbird and spiders have been slinging their nets every where, for whatever might come their way. Bramble vines spill from every edge, their castings prickled with tall nettles and thorns snagging on my bare skinned legs, sun drying the blood before it trickles far, hair switched by the thorny combs, I fill one tub then another, then another, coming from the West facing fence on the path through Sunview East, to the South facing edges of the football field where I also gather some of the plumpest hips from the Rosa rugosa, they are so ripe, skin so transparent they have the appearance of vials of wine, I go to the South facing hills over the ponds and on to the West and South facing edges of the High Meadow, where I pull in a couple of scant heads of Elder’s berries. The Elders are not so much in evidence and I fear they have been over picked in flowering season. I look up high and see some berries dangling from their parasols safely beyond my reach.
Back home with my booty I was thinking to do jam, curious about the pectin element in the rosehips I wanted to try out JG(the botanist)’s tip for setting bramble, and other jams – google informs me there is 0 pectin in a hip but JG insists otherwise. I gather some windfall apples from beneath my tree I chop the hips, looking out for the itchy fibres but don’t encounter any in the halving, one recipe for jam would have me scooping out the seeds, but I decide to leave them in, as perhaps these were the pectin part. I pour the the hoard into pans, including that tender spray of elderberry from the meadow, I add some water and bring the pots to simmer. After a while of minutes I scoop up all the matter and drain the juices through some netty cloth and leave it hanging overnight. This morning I decide there are not so many jam eaters in my circle, and so I switch to making hedgerow cordial. The pectin experiment will have to wait for another opportunity. I have made 3 bottles of Glen Hedgerow Cordial and I’m smiling. Bounty from the Glen.
Other kinds of bounty by the Prosto Bench.
We have had an extended period of late summer sun, really glorious. I am preparing materials for a workshop I am planning for the Glen in September. Since hearing about the Alder grown for making charcoal at the Gunpowder Mills I have wanted to make some Alder charcoal for drawing.
I’ve gathered both Alder and Willow trimmings from the park. I had an old biscuit tin left to me by an emigrating friend and I measured and cut lengths that would fit snugly into it.
The Willow flesh was moistly smooth and, after slicing a zipper like gash, the bark slipped off easily, leaving a perfectly formed and silken limb. The Alder wasn’t quite so accommodating, being a little woodier, it felt more like a paring than a peeling. I made two forays into the Glen to have enough pieces to fill my tin snugly as my googling advised.
I punctured a hole in the top of the tin for letting off steam from the raw wood inside. I lit the fire in the late afternoon light, using wood from an old bed frame, one of A’s bunks, timber that she grew out of, that later trans-morphed into makeshift shelving in R’s study…. so many transformations come to ground in fire.
I am thinking again of the Rosebay Willow Herb – Fireweed in the USA, Bombweed in London. Before the age of easy access to encyclopedic knowledge Londoners were suspicious of the plant, and a superstition grew up around the Rosebay Willow herb during the Blitz, as it grew so rampantly on all the sites left devastated by the German bombs, and so one of its many given names was London’s Ruin, due to this first major appearance on the London stage since its debut for the Great Fire in 1666. Others called it London’s Pride.
Rosebay Willow herb loves burned ground, and I’m thinking of the Glen burnings, that ritual for generations of Northside boys, to set light to the gorse – I believe in celebration of the sun, as the first glimmer of warmth awakens the radiant yellow flowers, letting off their heady scent and their promise of summer. Much as i appreciate this innate feeling for fire I was saddened by the casual burnings of last year, seeing the blackened and destroyed stumps on great cloaks of charred earth, on the edges the still intact but ashen bushes prickly still, but dead. Last year the gorse kept its flowers for the whole of the winter, by the time spring came round this year they seemed to have exhausted themselves and we got no real show of the fiery gold of the Gorse in 2021.
Now I see clearly the interactions of human and plant behavior, all that burning prepares the ground for a bounty of Willow herb; this year I worry about the scant burnings, and the profusion of bracken that engulfs the Glen Valley’s slopes. What will next year bring? I wonder.
I find that Ivan Chai or Koporye had been very much appreciated across the UK before the East India Tea company discredited it and pushed it out of popular consumption and living memory.
A wonderful post by a fellow willow herb lover – Rosebay Willow herb jelly anybody?
I have begun again with the task of extracting the fibres from the nettle.
Rumplestiltskin comes to mind
First one softens the stalk, pounding gently with stone or other blunt object
Then one splits open the stalk
The nettle kindly likes to separate into a few long strips, often about four sections
Pull a strip away
Next one extracts the pith the woody hull from inside that is not fibrous
You bend back the bark and crack the pith then you can remove it in inch long segments, here it is tempting to think this is useful fibre but it is not.
Then you have long strips of green bark, the bark is fibrous but tough
On the inside of the bark are the fine nettle fibres, they are white or palest of green
Best to dry the fibres now to allow for shrinkage, a couple of hours will do
Then soak, for a while, short or long, if longer than a day change the water every once in a while
i am not sure what comes out in the water, it could be good stuff I have read that the venomous formic acid in nettles is good some how in textiles (will get back on this one) so best not to oversoak
Soaking swells up the inner fibres, it makes them easier to see and easier to pull away from the bark, still it’s a long process
I am outdoors in the late summer sun and so I lay the fibres out on the bare skin of my thigh, they stick to my skin, holding them in place in the breeze till they dry and want to fly away
A rhythm builds this way.
Some fibres still have bark attached, the good ones are fine as grandmother’s hair
I twist the fibres
I twist them again
This stops time
The rate of production is too slow to be significant on any grand scale
I will not be adding much to the things of the world in this way
Time expands internally, takes on another dimension
Stills the world outside
I am in touch
The ancestors are around
How else would the girl in the story have conjured the name of that taskmaster goblin
formic acid improves the fastness of colours in dying processes with natural materials. It also improves the wicking quality (absorbancy) of vegetable textiles. Info found in report below.
I have so many entries about this plant which graces the Glen with such majesty. Her sweeping stems uplifting to the sky and bending with the breeze just make me want to get airborne and sway with her. She is such a plant for our little valley, beginning low down and reaching for the sky, she swathes the hills with an energetic lightness, stroking, waving, sweeping fronds of purple/pink hills over the hills already densely covered in the deeping green of the bracken, with a colour that is called Rosebay, the sound of the name and vocal expression perfectly describes the spirit of the plant and makes me want to sing her name Rosebay Willow Herb.
I have been watching a video by the fabulous John Feehan in Offaly
Here are my notes from the video:
Rosebay Willow herb
There are 9 species of willow herb in Offaly
The Rosebay Willow Herb Demonstrates clearly the 4th dimension of Time In pollination strategy
Spike form of flower has a Racine formation where each flower on spike has its own stalk
Dichotomy – male and female parts mature at different times – difficult to self pollinate
On Rosebay Willow Herb the male parts mature first, rendering self pollination impossible in early stages of flowering
Demonstrated by Christian Sprengel German botanist C18
Petals x form and not the usual + so there is no obvious landing platform for pollinators
Visitors have to land on anthers which are held out like fingers on a hand
The stamens begin to dehist (shed pollen)
At this stage Stigma is at the back of the flower – and her 4 lobes are held closely together
As the flower matures the Stamens begin to shed their pollen, and the Stigma and style begin to protrude further forward, as they do this the valves of the Stigma begin to open
Eventually the Stigma takes the place formerly held by the Anthers and becomes most conspicuous landing platform for insects
Now the Stigma is at most receptive, and the 4 lobes curve backwards
Nectar production is at its maximum in this female phase of the plant
Nectar is secreted by the green fleshy area at the top of the ovary and is stored in a sort of Flask
The Flask is formed by the swollen bases of the filaments of the stamens As the Style begins to expand the Flask is ruptured
(The long flask is at the back of flower, it looks like stalk but same purple as the petals) You need a 10x hand lens to see it well
Only strong tongued insects can access nectar in the Flask
Bumble bees, honey bees, hover flies
Flowers fade but the Stigma remains receptive
If no visitor arrives to pollinate the flower the Stamens straighten up a bit and graze the Stigma with any remaining pollen, and this way, towards the end of its flower cycle, the Rosebay Willow Herb can self pollinate at this late stage
Most of the flowers on every spike will be pollinated
Each willow herb spike has 80,0000 tiny seeds, each with a little plume held in the ovary, making willow herb most efficient of air borne flowers
All parts are edible
Native N Americans and in Siberian
Liquor distilled from shoots mixed with fly agaric = effects of LSD and Gin
Honey from RBWH is excellent
Anther = Male parts = filament + stamen
Carpel – Female parts = Ovary containing ovules + Style, pollen tube + Stigma
Ovary on willow herb looks like a stalk at the back of the flower and is is the same colour as petals
Peduncle: The stalk of a flower.
Receptacle: The part of a flower stalk where the parts of the flower are attached.
Sepal: The outer parts of the flower (often green and leaf-like) that enclose a developing bud.
Petal: The parts of a flower that are often conspicuously colored.
Stamen: The pollen producing part of a flower, usually with a slender filament supporting the anther.
Anther: The part of the stamen where pollen is produced.
Pistil: The ovule producing part of a flower. The ovary often supports a long style, topped by a stigma. The mature ovary is a fruit, and the mature ovule is a seed.
Stigma: The part of the pistil where pollen germinates.
Ovary: The enlarged basal portion of the pistil where ovules are produced.
I go with a mission to out up the signs for next Sunday’s monthly FotG clean up. We missed July for a holiday. It’s hot I’m sleeveless and legless, loose in my dress feeling unshackled apart from the signs I’ve made, still wet under my arm. The Rosebay is happening in clouds of pink and whispy white across swathes of the park, it’s easy to be in love with this majestic plant and the way she sways. I must have hundreds of photos that never do her justice, and as I’m leaning in to take another I see a strange pattern through the lens, tufts gathered in a circle, its not so easy to make out in this strong light but I am startled by a large spider at the centre, a statuesque woman and some boys are passing, as she sees me in the vegetation she asks me what it is, meaning the rosebay, I tell her and she says lovely, and then I show the inhabitant, I hope she’s vegetarian I say, the woman, an elegant grandmother, thinks I’m teasing the boys, especially the elder who is unimpressed by anything that could interest us old ladies, and she laughs.
Earlier on this path I had found a strange and raw looking bleached shell cracked open, it looked familiar but oddly like china, stalk still attached and oozing slightly, it puzzled me. I found on my way back passing the hazel tree that there were some early windfalls, and the one on the path near the web was an early picking from some enterprising bird… must be a crow I guess to have made that strong break. I picked up some of the windfalls and placed them on the shelf L found last year for a hiding place to gift another hazel lover.
I put up the last sign at the zigzag and couldn’t resist taking a snap of it by the bench mark that N has recently discovered, and challenged us all with finding on the FotG fb page. I had guessed it might be on this wall as it dates back to the ordinance surveys of the 1840s, but he tipped me off anyway.
On Saturday, the tail end of heritage week we had a visitor to the Glen from The Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO), Catherine Seale-Duggan …(appropriately @>) came with her Kick test kit
The kick tests involved scooping up river water in a net in three different places, dipping down deep into the river bed. Each time the scoopings are emptied into a shallow white basin and we peer in. We are looking for life forms. And there is so much going on…
A metropolis of waterborne matter and wriggling creatures. I was taken by the blood worm, scarlet with a forked end, not so much a tail as a pair of tiny splayed limbs – small fleshy projections, called parapodia, run all along its body – which it uses to pivot and angle itself forward, in a rhythmic, scripting movement, its powerful front end bulging with the effort, transluscent, the blood worm seems to be made without matter and its name is perfect. Wondering out loud about the rich red colour, CSealeD says it’s the colour of the haemoglobin showing through thin skin, telling us that blood worms don’t need much extra oxygen. The blood worm is common in poor quality water for this very reason, and also features at the bottom, most negative end of the indicators for water quality. I find out more… they have powerful jaws and can give a human a painful bite – perhaps that is, if they grow to their maximum length of 35 cms. Wikipedia tells me “These animals are unique in that they contain a lot of copper without being poisoned…their jaws are unusually strong since they too contain the metal in the form of a copper-based chloride biomineral, known as atacamite in crystalline form. It is theorized that this copper is used as a catalyst for its venomous bite.” So all iron and copper inside the body of blood worm, make for a real metal ninja creature.
We find sticklebacks which delight one Glen walker as he tells us of childhood memories, rubbing his hand along the spine, feeling for the spiky fins, the three fins are clearly visible as she swims, but in the hand they disappear, the walker says the fins behave in the same way as a cat’s fur when startled by a threat, but in this instance perhaps the warm skinned flesh is just too foreign for her defence system and she remains smooth and limp in the hand, he says this one is female as she has no orange spot on the belly. The walker also remembers foot long black eels in the Glen and we all wonder how they could arrive from the sea through the urban obstacle course of today.
We see a Caddis fly larva … looking like a walking piece of rubble… using silk to bind together stones, fish bone, crustacean shell, twigs, bitten off vegetation, and other water borne debris, the Caddis fly larva cobbles together this odd looking costume, living its aquatic life until ready to change element and become moth, air bound and free. The Caddis fly larva is sensitive to water pollution and so her presence in our samples is a happy sign. I read about an artist who presented a Caddis fly larva with gold, opal and turquoise, pearls, lapis lazuli and rubies out of which to build its home in captivity….not a good look in the wild… Caddis fly larvae are one of the most popular items on the menu for our Dipper, who dives under the water and walks along the river bed poking beak into the matter that moves here. In a beautiful cycle one sensitive creature means another can thrive in The Glen.
Our river gets a “moderate” score of -4 on a scale from -9 to +9, not so bad, CSealeD isn’t surprised, we are a tiny urban river, not really passing through farmland, our threats are not from nutrient rich agricultural run off choking the water with algae, but from detergent effluent produced by washing machines, plumbed into extensions and tapped into the wrong drainage system, a common practice that is difficult to monitor or control. Our river often has a detergent smell and the surface often has the opaque sheen of a cataract on the eye, on bad days it’s milky through and through.
After a foraging walk with The Friends of the Glen
I just woke up from falling alseep listening to this
and listening again
hearing Kimmerer speak that gentle passionate word reciprocity – and her call for rematriation – a bringing back to mother earth, I am hearing about the evolution of maize, wife of the sun and mother of all things, and her symbiotic relationship with humans, whose ears need human hands to unbind the tightly packed kernels from their husks and leaves, whose male flower tassels dance and scatter pollen that can reach the female parts only by descending through the corn silks to the ovaries concealed within the ears, each silk is connected to one ovary which, if pollination occurs, becomes a plump kernel. I hear about Mexican ancestors who, 9000 years ago, shook the pollen from one ancient grass over another and so began creating hybrids from a single Teosinte – sacred ear of corn – and so mahiz – bringer of life – maize – evolved. Beginning with just a few stony kernels on each ear of corn, through time growing plump and soft and many rowed; a symbiosis of plant creativity and human technology. I hear from Kimmerer of today’s careful farmers practicing introgression, back-crossing modern hybrids with their ancient forbears – across time, across species, honouring reciprocity and knowing that in diversity lies security. I hear also the story of those Mexican forbears who heated the stony kernels dry, in ceramic pots encouraging the seeds to pop open and fluff out and popcorn was born, that this discovery was so appreciated by the ancestors that sacred garlands were made for ritual celebration of this new found food.
I must quote Kimmerer directly
Over the hill at the heritage farm, plants are respected as bearers of gifts, as persons, indeed oftentimes as teachers. Who else has the capacity to transform light, air, and water into food and medicine—and then share it? Who cares for the people as generously as plants? Creative, wise, and powerful, plants are imbued with spirit in a way that the western worldview reserves only for humans.
Western science makes the claim to pure objectivity and intentionally banishes subjectivity from its explanations in favor of reductionist, strictly materialist approaches. I’m trained as a scientist, and I honor the importance of this method. There’s good reason for it when the questions to be answered are “true or false.” But there are other, bigger questions, for which exclusion of human values may lead to unintended outcomes.
The four colors on my Red Lake flint cob are said to represent the four colors of the medicine wheel, which is a symbol of the holistic indigenous approach to knowledge making. Among their many meanings, the four colors remind us that we humans have four ways of perceiving and understanding the world, with mind, body, emotion, and spirit. There is no strict separation between subjective and objective but rather encouragement to consider what we might learn from using each of these powerful abilities. The combination provides insight into not only questions of “true or false” but also questions of “right and wrong.”
It’s a story of the dance between the plant’s unique gifts and the human gift for technology: not technology in the sense of autonomous machines that separate us from the living world, but a sacred technology, which unites us. Using indigenous science, the human and the plant are linked as co-creators; humans are midwives to this creation, not masters. The plant innovates and the people nurture and direct that creativity. They are joined in a covenant of reciprocity, of mutual flourishing.
And so I was drawn back to RWK after yesterday’s plant appreciation and foraging walk in the Glen. FotG invited botanist and herbalist Jo Goodyear, to lead us on a walk – we covered 100 metres in 2 hours. Rosa rugosa Rosehips; Brambles; Nettles; Ribwort and Broadleaf Plantain; Marsh woundwort; Brooklime/Water Speedwell; Marsh mint, Bulrush; Willow herb, Fools watercress; Wild parsnip – care with the umbellifer family – hemlock water droplet; Yarrow, Daisy (Bruisewort), Dandelion, Dock, Coltsfoot, Burdock, Whitethorn…..
some notes from the day as a list
Foraging succession – leaves – flowers – fruits – roots – some exceptions ‘son before father’ – pick only what you will use on the day and no more than a third of what you see, do not over harvest, (remembering RWK – be polite speak to plant by name and ask her permission, sing to her) bark only from outer branches never from trunk, remember the seasons and cycles, tune in, Rosa rugosa – hips – pectin combine with brambles (and other fruits) for setting jams and jellies, syrups and for soothing for the gut, rose hips fibrous itching powder, petals for a fragrant tea, for jam. Bramble leaves for tea, black and purple berries vascular health, circulation, rosebay willow herb soothing tea Ivan chai – green teas lactic fermentation, nettles nettles nettles, whitethorn haws for heart, steep in brandy, no need to bruise flesh (as in sloe gin), burdock root, generally yellow roots are purging, diuretic, laxative, antioxidant, anti inflammatory, blood purifying, all worts for healing powers
On Sunday I retraced our steps the next day, remembering about the mature seed heads of plantain and nettle seeds too for food, loving the distinctly different seedheads of Ribwort and Broadleaf varieties I was prompted to search and find there are many varieties… narrowleaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blackseed plantain (Plantago rugelii), blond plantain (Plantago ovata), bracted plantain (Plantago aristata), Chinese plantain (Plantago asiatica), buck’s-horn plantain (Plantago coronopus), woolly plantain (Plantago patagonica). This year I have fallen in love with the enormous broadleaf plaintains growing in my garden and left them all standing proud, perhaps its a year to sample their seeds. I also stumbled across another variety of dock, a pretty ‘Liquorish allsorts’ flower and tiny leaves, the lesser dock.
Seeing how the plants protect themselves, and manage to thrive side by side, in cracks or water’s edge, even the creeping buttercup has a role here to hold the banks and fix the nitrogen, keeping the river clear, seeing the bees in the mint heads and remembering the way the forget me not disguised its lookalike companion the Marsh Speedwell which is not in flower here… I wonder at this exchange between small blue flowers, remembering Jo mention the Alder in passing, as a source for charcoal in the days of production at the gunpowder Mills nearby. Loving the statuesque proportions of the burdock and remembering Jo talk about its biennial flowering pattern, building up the strength and nourishment in its root before it produces flowers and then scattering seeds for the next cycle before it dies. I had wondered about the solitary stands of burdock in the Glen, knowing where to look and how to keep observing the patterns year on year. And here I ponder on how the seasons are so different from year to year, we had an early summer last year, with mountains of gorse blooming throughout and into the winter, this year the gorse is not flowering at all, the slopes are covered in bracken and there is more broom, and I’m remembering last years bounty of Oak galls where there are none on the Mother Oak on the ridge in 2021….
On my walk I passed through the upper meadow and noticed again the gathering of yarrow around the cemented area, it strikes me like a meeting of druids, following mossy encroachments, enlivening the surface of the old yielding concrete, yarrow islands are forming and creating new maps and new worlds and forming a large patch in the grassland which was previously kept trim by council mowers but now is slowly transforming into meadowland. In the meadow I also see the big ash has no keys after last year’s abundance, 2020 must have been a mast year here. I recall that the little patch of grass, not a stone’s throw away in front of my house, has several self seeded birches which I am nurturing in the spots they have landed for the time being.
So nettles…. into the Glen the season for picking is now for the fibres, after the flowering when the plants are mature. Only my second season for creating cordage from local plants. Looking for nettles that have long segments between leaves and without side shoots. I wear gloves and tear backwards along the stem to remove the leaves and the worst of the prickles.
Nettles have venom – formic acid, the same as ants and some bees. The hollow spines also inject neurotransmitters – Serotonin that acts in nettle stings as an irritant – the happy hormone turns nasty – and Hystamine which causes inflammation… another chemical involved is Acetylcholine, together these ingredients form part of the nettle sting cocktail. Our response to a sting may be enhanced by a synergetic process including oxalic acid and tartaric acid also found in nettles, which can prolong the affect.
I have grown accustomed to nettle stings and actually had come to enjoy the fizzing sensation on, under and around my skin, that is until the June bank holiday, with a spell over a long weekend in the Mercy Hospital laid up on an antibiotic drip. My complacency came back and stung me hard where it hurts. Perhaps it was those hollow spines siphoning the primordial pond water through that porous surface of the largest organ of my body, the skin. I have learnt to consider myself not altogether waterproof. So the gloves.
I brought the stalks home and pounded them gently with a large quartz rock gleaned from another Glen excursion; concentrating on the knuckles where the leaves branch off and so create eddies and ruptures in the straight path of the nettle skin walls from root to tip. After the pulverising of the rigid inner stem I was able to strip the long outer stems into a few parts. Next task is to remove the fleshy pith from the inside of the bast filaments (the phloem, or the vascular part of the plant). This can be done by snapping back over the bark skin and peeling off the inner woody pith in sections, circumnavigating the joints and keeping the usable bark and fibre lengths long. Altogether quite a satisfying process. The Paleolithic Craft Revivalist, Sally Pointer, uses a bone handled palette knife (the old fashioned tableware kind) to scrape back the flesh and so I follow suit with Auntie Esmes’s heirloom to further strip away the green outer bark from the inner strands … our paleolithic ancestors would have used a flint flake. Some other nettle harvesters I’ve seen use only the more elusive white filaments between bark and pith. In my novice processing I found it easiest to produce long sections including the bark, nevertheless, on each breakage of the pith I encounter lively shorter whisps of the fine white filament, waving hairs like Tesla’s dome, which remain tantalisingly difficult to extract in longer sections….and anyway the bark is good for making tougher cordage, which can be surprisingly fine, fine enough to fit through the eye of a needle.
The fibres need to dry out so they can do any shrinking before further processing. I left my strands balled up in a bucket, but hanging is recommended, the aim is to leave them until most of the moisture has gone from them, overnight is fine. Re-soaking fibres as and when makes for a more supple handling when creating cordage.
There is growing interest in nettle fibres as an alternative to the water heavy usage of cotton production. This modern fabric is called Ramie. The hollow fibres render nettles more effective as an insulating material in textile production where can be handled much like flax. Retting – skutching – hackling – spinning – weaving. Nettles were used in prehistoric times for fabric and also in the European wars for making uniforms when other textiles were in short supply.
See here about Nettle Stings
Sally Pointer shows how to make Nettle Cordage:
Historic Nettle Textiles
Contemporary making nettle fabric
Ramie is the generic name for fabric made from the nettle family, and it was the cloth the Egyptians used for binding mummies. Though the cloth made fromthe European stinging nettle is known, more prosaically, as Nettlecloth.