Nettles – August harvest

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.

nettles in gloved hand leading the way home

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.

The nettle dress project

amazing film showing nettles releasing pollen

Weds 18.08.2021 Pairings and co-ordinates…

Into the Glen today before 9 am – I love the mornings here .. there are runners and wanderers and dog walkers and the morning is gently growing. I gather some shots of the willow herbs, greater and lesser and a stray solitary Montbresia. I look for apples on the old survivor tree by the well, see none at first, then I spy a single oddly-shapen lumpy fruit in the distance… there must be a cross pollinating partner about, I made a thought to visit the crabs in the lane.

On my return circling of the triangle at the Engineer’s place I see white stars in the ditch, beautiful swirling tendrils with tiny purse trails, softly weaving lyrics over the triangulating stems and spiky burr nodes of the Wood Aven. I find this starry plant is called Enchanter’s Nightshade, a perfect name, creating a moment as I realise where I’m standing, on the corner of the S wall nearby the missing Elm, the one I called Enchantress, or sometimes Witchy Tree, whose form is made ever more present in her absence, burning her shape on the sky, at least to this one, who remembers, each time in passing, her wizened arms making angles at the pond life over the S wall. Spellbinding still. Another name for Enchanter’s Nightshade I find is Witches Grass, not at all a relative of the Deadly kind, but a member of the Evening Primrose family and relative of the Willow Herb. I breathe in the thought that it is somebody’s job to notice things like this, even if no one else will ever know.

Species of the week: Enchanter’s nightshade

These two plants, apart from having having an alliance in spellbinding, are hosts to butterflies and moths….. Another name for Wood Aven is ‘Herb Bennet’ and thought to come from the Latin for a sacred plant ‘Herb Benedicta’, once believed to drive away evil spirits it was hung on doors to stop the devil from entering. The Wood Aven is a food plant for the larvae of the Grizzled Skipper butterfly while The Enchanter’s Nightshade is a favourite host plant of the elephant hawk moth caterpillar.

I think of the other pairings, the Hare’s Paw fungi fruiting in bursts on the shredded remains of the old oak branches lying heaped across the path from her old oak stump – it’s likely there could be mycelia joining them still in a delicate network underfoot, thin as spider’s silk and alive.

As I pass the tangled fringes with flowering nettle heads and layered and leaning levels of growth and decline I realise I’ve been holding this magpie’s feather all along, and I remember my conversation with E, who was lamenting that she hadn’t seen the magpies recently, odd I had thought at the time, as I was aware of many in the tree tops and juveniles on the paths, and now I realise that E’s only access to the Glen was in the upper regions and so her perception is from a different perspective to my own.

Just up the path is the yellow bench still in aria with the now wilting buachaillán on the other side, singing across the divide from football field to meadow land.

Yesterday I was given a gallop around the pitch in a cart drawn by the brave horse, Lady. I sent a bit of eye love to her shackles, grazed from the harness and, though her human assured me she benefits from pulling our weight on the run, I was happier for her after I had climbed down from the trap and she had only half the weight to draw.

Lime tree has a tear like a zip down the narrow trunk, I feel for it, roundup was sprayed at the foot of each tree in this line back in June and the leaves of each tree yellowed and withered, now I see that each of these limes has recovered and there is a big plantain at each tree’s base, I wonder could it be a healing presence….sitting here for a while with the wind in my hair and the wind in the leaves

Saturday 7.08.2021 August

I have been missing my blogging. A breezy Saturday morning with stormy weather warnings as I stroll down the path from Sunview East this morning. I saw a familiar figure here last Thursday evening, hovering along the upper walk between the fields now left to meadow, her grey head and slight frame alert above the tall grass, I am drawn towards her and look back pretending to be interested in the rainbow forming over the entrance to the Glen, taking shots of it and peering through my lens whenever she looks back at me. Soon I gather it is E from the lane, sprightly this weather, and after a little dance hither and thither we connected and talked for the first time in many months. The golden Buachalláins are a head above the rest, and E reminds me they are pulled out in farmlands, I remember feeling this way about them too, poisonous ragwort, as I knew it to be. I know them now as Buachailláns, they are important hosts to the Cinnabar moth, both for nectar in adult form and in chomping phase as a ravenous yellow and black stripy grub. The moths lay hundreds of eggs in the lower ragwort leaves and the grubs emerge as a tasty green delicacy loved by birds, as the grubs chomp their way up to the higher reaches of stem the pure ragwort diet builds toxins in their bodies, transforming them to yellow and black caterpillars, now a warning sign which preserves them from being lunch. In August they spin themselves into a cocoon and lie buried in the ground, hibernating until next summer when they will emerge as the red and black beauty we see flitting about the flower heads today. Cinnabar moths are in decline in farmland but here in The Glen we can afford to welcome the Buachailláns and their little worlds. E’s and I’s talk continues about the meadows, the yarrow is showing white in the long grasses and we both approve of this. E’s movements were strange to me and I find out why, she got caught breathless coming up the steep incline some years ago and can no longer enter the deep valley of the Glen and so like the Cinnabar moth she flits the upper reaches when she has the energy.

Today I descend and remember E as the lime tree wooshes its leaves for me on the corner and I drop down past the meadow. I see a lone buachaillán opposite the yellow bench, gifting itself to the empty seat, they could be in aria, it certainly appears to be more of a flirtation than a standoff, the yellows chiming in sympathy across the path. On my way back up I see the path also bears that yellow paint splash, thrown and twining with white, this mark has been there long before either bench or bunch and is held in the divide between them. Later on up I step over the yellow-white-yellow-white hazard sign on the low barrier.

These barely relevant chimings combine to create dynamic co-ordinates in my ever shifting mapping of the Glen.

As ever the Rosebay Willow Herb ….I am on the path seeking a bench mark N has posted from a Glen wall, I enjoy these call and responses on the FotG facebook page, a kind of treasure hunt for Glen walkers. I went in search of some delicate fungi too during the week posted by another walker, both searches are ongoing, the fungi are elusive, though I know I have seen the mark before…

fungi by Una Hermana and Bench mark by Niall Murray

I go to the original meadow on the incline on the Western side and see the flowers reaching for insect life, which is not in evidence, the gusty day may be a factor but I sense the crisis is impacting every day a little more as the Queen Anne lace’s baskets are waving empty.

My shoe laces are undone on the wet brush through the bracken on the way home.

Tuesday 13.07.2021 Sadly missed witchy tree

I have been weaning myself a little from my Glen habit, making space for other things and i am missing my daily missives and meanders. I got a message from I yesterday about the clumsy felling of a tree. I saw his video and new it was the old dead elm by the S wall, that conjurer, conductor with witches arms, her bony elbows lifted to raise the levels all about her, river river river she beckoned, sometimes the mist rising to her arms, she held that spot by the S wall, there not so long as it, but comfortably nestled.

Looking back at my photos I see a year ago she had a partner by her side, and now I remember challenging M who was there with his collection of saws and his butcher’s bike, harvesting neatly in the Glen, so what, the tree was dead he said.

This time, it seems, it was a company sent by the council to come on a Sunday and take out the main trunk, leaving the amputated branches tangling over the river, the bones of the witches arms. Her cross-sectioned trunk looked pinkish like a steak, the compact rings still dense and moist, nothing giving there (not like the old Poplar that came down in the storm, her heart eaten out and weakened from the core). Chippings from the cutting lie in the cupped heliotropes that gather still untouched at her base.

Looking back I see the last shot I took of this beautiful presence was on April the first, though she has framed my view so many times and I have been tempted to capture her…and chose to drink in the moment instead. She is always gently there at dusk for the bats. I find again some shots from February 14th – a Valentine with blue sky.

The time before that it was on the winter solstice, in the damp deep fog. Then that time before was 2nd November into the new year after Halloween, the sweep of the wall hauling me in, then it was 24th August last, when P the wall did his clean up and the council cemented it up and I caught a glimpse of the furtive actions of a long haired, young man, head down with his black dog on a red lead, scribing the soft surface with lock down impressions, by the time I swooped back on my loop another walker had rubbed it out and so then I felt compelled to trace back over the letters, it felt false to me and I rubbed it out again, then I assume it was the young man again with sweeping hair that came back and wrote on the river facing side, away from human view, and it remained till hardened and got painted white.

The witchy tree oversaw all of this activity and more, she over heard the teenage action on the island and was a perch for the birds. She was difficult to capture in the wide-angle view of the phone, the lens diminishing her sweeping power, but every time I passed her I acknowledged her knuckley elbows and seductive power.

Tuesday 22.06.2021 trembling

Trembling to the sounds of the Glen

Solstice sounds for trembling dance

I hear there has been activity at the site of the sludgy drain and so I go and have a nosy and see there is a puncture in the pipe the smell is sour and strong of detergent and its seeping now away from the river but diverting to where I wonder…

dried leaf form vessels so tender in their holding, old brown clover heads dangle the dry weight of their seeds and young ones aflame with colour, a bramble flower gets mixed up with the wood sage

Monday 21.06.2021 Solstice

I find that the solstice will be at 4.30 and dawn will be at 5.15, and so I set my alarm to mark the occasion. The morning is clear so I will see the sun. I grab some skies in my phone as the sun rises and later falls… I wonder about the solstice, being the stand still 45 minutes below the horizon …

Sunrise and sunset the doc and the laurel form an arc I hadn’t intended

Back in the evening for more skies, looking West this time, I captured a laurel leaf to send to Bec , the windows of golden light coming through that old tanned hide of the fallen leaf.

I race up to the high ground to catch the view of the sun and M the path keeper is there, building fires with his family, at the place he made by the oak, when I pass back they are roasting marshmallows with some of the boys who have gathered. There is plenty of activity here tonight and music coming from below, celebrations deep in the bones for the longest day.

There are offerings at the hatch, foxglove thimbles scattered at the pink alter of the Montelimar.

I see the moon shining silver light from the South, caught in the branches of the trees, and I remember now the dew drops form the morning, balanced in the spiders web, as I pass through the valley on my way home.

Days of Solstice Sun 20 06.2021 overcast into the shortest night

So here I find myself at the apex and cumulation of my bloggings on the Glen, Gleann na Phúca or, as I have come to know it, the Enchanted Valley. This day of the shortest night.

I enter the Glen at dusk on the 20th, Sunday, the pink jacket is still thrown in the bushes; a semi-permanent goal. There is an interruption in the skin of the new green bin by the snake, a punch and arching scrape, down to metal in the reflective surface, T’s garden is still doing ok nearby, in the Poplar stump while the singular yellow flag is doing its best by the water’s edge and the swamp cypresses are getting their green on. Copper sequins scatter across the the ground near the unpopulated pedestal (and it’s not hard to make out in them the constellation of Orion) and oats are gently thrown on flagstones by the ponds for the birds. Trees conduct one another in their endless symphony, and frame the gaps where the people walk; the scarified bark at the base of the Elm, crying its bark tears for the life that tries each year to rise up its dead-old channels.

The white walls are fast becoming my frames of reference, like pieces of a jigsaw that want to connect and are separated by the gaps of the missing pieces in between. So through the painted gatepost out of the engineer’s place and on to the painted cement conglomerate – an invitation to the belly-connection over the rushing water, and the cage of the hatch which somehow soothes, and where now I know sometimes lives the Glen Dipper. Nearby a thread, hazard tape umbilical from the dumping ground, and a buried part of another old stone edifice; crossings and liftings of vegetation across the skin of the valley, the plants having public conversations for all to hear. Now up onto the high ground where I find slow-moving life forms, and dangle a while in the branches of the Mother Oak, looking across to the elders in full bloom, and the wavings of the bare armed Elms. Homeward bound I find the shuttlecock I placed earlier on the oak stump is still resting there, and the abandoned bike still hedged, another cypress shows its tight little nuts on the corner into home.

Days of Solstice – Audio

some slow moving time with a slug….