Wyrtig

For gardeners with a sense of history
 

OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312
.

  

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Wyrtig - In early sources

Nettle. Many thanks to the British Library for providing this image from Egerton 747 f. 104, c.1300 CE.

 

In Early Sources...

 

 


Nettle

Urtica dioica

   

Medieval Names

Adamnan

Neantóga
See below, St. Columba and the Nettle Broth - A Tale and Two Recipes

Ęlfric

Netle, netel, netele, urtica

Herbarium Apuleii

Netelan, netele, urtica

 Lacnunga

Hnydele, stiše (see the "Nine Herbs Charm")

Leechbook

Netle, netelan, netlan

Walafrid Strabo

Urtica
 

A 4 oz. serving provided this % of daily requirement:

Iron

11%

Riboflavin

11%

Fiber

31%

Manganese

33%

Vitamin A

45%

Calcium

54%

Vitamin K

700%

For generations nettle has been relished as a spring tonic, its value springing from its high levels of a number of essential nutrients (shown at left).


Roman soldiers practiced urtification, whipping themselves with nettles to ease sore feet and legs, and using the heat of the nettle rash to warm themselves. They also used it as a potherb, and like later generations, drank it as a tea, used it as a rennet substitute to make cheese, and even brewed nettle beer.

Nettle fibers produce a textile similar to linen; nettle shrouds have been found in Danish graves dating to 2000 BCE. Nettle roots also provide a yellow dye; its leaves, a dye of green.

 

Today, nettle is seldom grown in gardens, but rather it is gathered, when very young and tender, from roadsides and woody thickets.


A galactagogue that promotes lactation, nettle also contains compounds that reduce inflammation in osteoarthritis and other disorders. It is used in shampoos (and in cattle feeds) to make hair shine.

Gently touch a nettle,

   it'll sting you for your pains;

Grasp it with some mettle,

   soft as silk it does remain.

                Aesop

Grabbing a nettle firmly lessens its ability to sting because it crushes the trichomes, stinging hairs, so that they can’t deliver their toxin as effectively.

Quod pro foribus mihi
   parva patenti area vestibulo,
solis convertit ad ortum,

urticae implerunt campique
per aequora parvi

inlita ferventi creverunt tela veneno.

Quid facerem?

Walafrid Strabo, Hortulus

That gate opens to me,
a small vestibule
turned to the rising sun.
Nettles fill the field,
a small sea,
spread with roiling, growing poison darts.
What shall I do?

Walafrid Strabo, Hortulus

Neantóg a dhóigh mé,

   cupóg a leigheas mé.

                    Irish proverb

It is a nettle that stung me,
a dock that cured me.
                        Irish proverb

Formic acid is what causes the stinging nettle rash. Dock leaves contain a form of alcohol – an alkaline substance – that neutralizes the acid, and thus provides relief.

ƿiš liža sare Ȝyf hy of hwylcum belimpe ošše of cyle ošše of ęniȜum žincȜe gesarȜuše beoš . Ȝenim žisse ylcan wyrte seaž 7 eles efenmycel toȜędere Ȝewilled do žonne žaerto žęr hit swišort deriȜe binnan žrim daȜon šu hyne Ȝehęlrt.

Herbarium of Apuleius,

CLXXVIII, iv

For sore joints, if they be made sore for anything befallen, or from chill, or from any cause, take juice of this same plant, and an equal quantity of oil, boiled together. Apply then where it is most uncomfortable; within three days, you heal him.

Herbarium of Apuleius,
CLXXVIII, iv

 

 

 

 

 

ƿiš wifes flewran Ȝenim žas ylcan wyrte on mortere wel Ȝewunude oš žt heo wel liži sy Ȝeye žonne žaerto sumne dael huniges nim swžžan waete wulle 7 ža wel Ȝetaesede smyre šonne ža Ȝeweald mid žam laededome 7 syžžan hyne žam wife Ȝesyle žt heo hyne under Ȝgelecge žy sylfan daeȜe hyt žone flewran beluceš.

Herbarium of Apuleius, 
CLXXVIII, vi

It was a common practice in Victorian times for a translator to metaphorically cover his or her eyes by translating to a more opaque Latin, rather than allow the clarity of the vernacular. This was especially true when women's reproductive health issues were discussed -- and this is what Cockayne has done, below:

 

Ad mulieris fluxus, herbam hanc in mortario tusam, ita ut omnino lenta fiat, sumito, deinde aliquantulum adiice mellis, lana denique madida atque decerpta unge naturalia medicamento; postea autem mulieri tradito ut idem sibi subiiciat; eodem die fluxum comprimet.

 

For a woman’s [excessive] menstrual flow, take this same herb, pound it well in a mortar so that it becomes quite smooth. Take that and then add a little honey. Wet fine plucked wool with the medicine;  have the woman anoint herself, and on that same day the flow is compressed.

Herbarium of Apuleius, CLXXVIII, vi

Ƿiš žt žu cyle ne žolige genim žas ylcan wyrte urticam on ele gesodene smyre šonne waerinid ža handa 7 ealne žone lichaman ne ongitst šu žone cile on eallum žinum lichaman.

Herbarium of Apuleius,
CLXXVIII, vii

So that you shall not suffer from cold, take this same plant, urtica, soaked in oil; smear it then with your hands over all your body; nor will you feel the cold in all your body.

Herbarium of Apuleius,
CLXXVIII, vii

 

Columba and the Nettle Broth
  A Tale and Two Recipes

 

Once when he was walking beside the monks' cemetery in Iona, Columba saw an old woman cutting nettles. “Why are you cutting nettles, mįthair?" asked Columba.

"I have only one cow, a chara athair," she replied, "and it has not yet calved. So I am waiting for the calf, and for the milk. Nettle broth has served me now for quite awhile."

Columba made up his mind that from that day, nettle broth would serve him too, saying, "Since she suffers hunger and places all her hope in one uncertain cow, it is right that the hunger which we suffer should be as great, for where we place our hopes -- in the eternal Kingdom -- is better, and more certain."

And Columba told his servant "Give me nettle broth every night, without butter or milk."

"As you will", said the cook. But he secretly hollowed out his stirring stick and made it into a tube, and he poured milk into that tube and stirred that into the broth.

The others in the monastery noticed that Columba looked well, and gossiped about it among themselves. Word of this came to Columba, he said to them, "May your successors grumble for ever!”

“Now," he asked his servant, "what do you give me in the broth every day"

"You yourself see what I put in;" said his man. "Unless it comes out of the stirring stick, there is nothing but broth alone."

Then the truth was revealed to Columba, and he said to his servant, "Prosperity and benevolence to you and yours forever!"

And this has come to pass.

Man portrayed in the Book of Kells

 

Nettles, urtica dioica

Columba’s Nettle Broth     
2 servings

 1 cup, packed down, of young, freshly picked tops of nettles
   (don't use nettle that has begun to flower or set seed*)

  2 cups water or vegetable stock

 Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Wearing gloves, pick tender top growth of nettles

  2. Still wearing gloves, wash nettle tops, then coarsely chop

  3. Put stock and nettles in sauce pan; bring to simmer, and cook 10 minutes

  4. Push through sieve to make puree; season to taste and serve. 

*Soaking nettles in water or cooking them will remove the stinging chemicals from the plant. Nettles should be eaten only when young and green, as once it begins blooming and setting seed, its leaves develop tiny, gritty particles of calcium carbonate called cystoliths that can cause urinary tract irritation.

Nettle broth
Rich Nettle Broth
(for the less ascetic)    
4 servings

I cup, packed down, of young, freshly picked tops of nettles
   (don't use nettle that has begun to flower or set seed*)

2 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock

2 oz butter (50 gm)

1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal, or one medium potato, cooked and diced

4 Tbs. sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

1.       Wearing gloves, pick tender top growth of nettles

2.       Still wearing gloves, wash nettle tops, then coarsely chop

3.       Melt butter in sauce pan; add nettles and heat gently until wilted

4.       Add the stock and bring to low boil

5.       Turn down the heat, add oatmeal or potato; simmer for 10-15 minutes

6.    Puree in blender and serve topped with sour cream, swirled gently to make a spiral

*Soaking nettles in water or cooking them will remove the stinging chemicals from the plant. Nettles should be eaten only when young and green, as once it begins blooming and setting seed, its leaves develop tiny, gritty particles of calcium carbonate called cystoliths that can cause urinary tract irritation.

________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Please note: Many plants have been used in past and present times for medicinal purposes, and as one of the focuses of Wyrtig is the history of gardening, these uses are discussed here. However, common sense requires that you consult your family physician or other health care provider before using any plant materials for medicinal purposes. The old saying that "A doctor who treats him- (or her-) self has a fool for a patient" is no less true in herbal medicine than in any other branch of the healing sciences. Herbal remedies should not be used by the uninformed; medical advice should be sought before using any herbal remedy.

 
 

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Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt

 

Copyright ©2011-15 S.E.S. Eberly
All Rights Reserved

Contact us

Home | Early gardens | Early plants | Growing heirloom plants | Garden folklore | Resources | Site map

 

Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt

 

Copyright ©2015 S.E.S. Eberly
All Rights Reserved

Contact us