Nettle can be found in Europe, Asia and North America. Nettle plants feature heart shaped leaves and pink or yellow flowers, however, the entire plant is covered in tiny hair-like protrusions that release irritating chemicals when touched, hence earning it the nickname "stinging nettle." When brushed against, the tiny hairs covering the nettle plant release histamine, acetylcholine, 5-hydroxytryptamine and formic acid, delivering a sting that could last up to 12 hours if untreated. This temporary stinging sensation caused by fresh nettle is not found in dried, freeze dried or cooked nettle. In fact, nettles are often cooked and eaten as a green similar to spinach. Despite the unpleasant skin reaction to the fresh herb, nettle is a common ingredient in powders, tinctures, creams, tea and more.
The use of nettle leaf is believed to date back as far as the Bronze Age, and is even discussed in historical texts as being used by the Ancient Egyptians and Romans. Records exist from the reign of Julius Caesar, indicating that Roman troops had rubbed themselves with nettles in an attempt to keep themselves awake due to the burning sensation that followed contact with the skin. Nettle was even used to produce clothing. Nettle could be dried to obtain fibers that could be twisted and manipulated to create cloth similar to flax or hemp, ranging from silky to coarse in texture. The fabric and material derived from nettle could be bleached and dyed in a similar manner to cotton and was the fabric of choice in Scotland during the 16th and 17th centuries. As a textile, nettle was versatile, used for clothing, undergarments, stockings, linens and even fishing nets and twine.
Stinging nettle is believed to boast many benefits for use in humans and animals, and many modern studies have been conducted to assess human benefit of nettle. Nettle is extremely rich in many important vitamins and minerals. It is commonly fed to chickens to deepen the yellow color of egg yolks due to the high amount of carotenoids in nettle. It is also being researched as an alternative to rennet in the cheese making process, which would allow for more vegetable-based cheese-production methods to be utilized.
Nettle is also known as; Bichu, Common Nettle, Feuille d’Ortie, Graine d’Ortie, Grande Ortie, Great Stinging Nettle, Nettle, Nettle Leaf, Nettle Seed, Nettle Worth, Nettles, Ortie, Ortie Brûlante, Ortie des Jardins, Ortie Dioïque, Ortie Méchante, Ortiga, Small Nettle, Stinging Nettles, Urtica, Urtica dioica, Urtica urens, Urticae Herba et Folium, Urticae Radix.
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