Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Stinging nettle

Growing up in a temperate and fertile environment one of the plants you learn to avoid is the stinging nettle. Its Turkish name is ısırgan (otu-herb/weed). Isırmak-‘to bite’, with the adjective forming suffix ‘gan’ comes to mean ısırgan-‘biting’. It proliferates like a weed and you are ‘once bitten twice shy’ around this plant. Its botanical name Urtica dioica of the genus Urtica in the Urticaceae family, stinging nettle is one of six subspecies that sting.

“Nettle is part of the English name of many plants with stinging hairs, particularly those of the genus Urtica”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_plants_known_as_nettle). Hollow hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems inject histamine and several other chemicals when contacted by humans and animals that cause a painful burning sensation on the skin with no long-term physical effect.

Stinging nettle is native to Europe, Asia, Northern Africa and North America.

I can’t do justice to most plants with my limited description. Their numerous traits must be analyzed in detail and traced from season to season. The most I can do is to spark an interest in those who do not recognize them readily. As we can see in the above illustration from a book by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé, titled Flora von Deutschland, Öserreich und der Schweiz (1885, Gera-Untermhaus, Germany), stinging nettle is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Illustration_Urtica_dioica0_clean.jpg)

The stinging nettle has a long history of use as a medicine, as a food source and as a source of dietary fiber. Wikipedia provides us with the information that “nettles are used in Albania as part of the dough filling for byrek. Its name is ‘byrek me hithra’. The top baby leaves are selected and simmered, then mixed with other ingredients like herbs, rice, etc. before being used as a filling between dough layers.” In Turkey this dish is called ‘ısırgan otlu börek’-nettle herb börek.

                                          A kind of börek


  1. Hi Beste - young nettles are good for you .. and can be used as a vegetable, or as you've described, or in soups and stews ... don't get stung though. The other good thing about nettles is that they are a brilliant habitat for the Cabbage White Buttefly and provide much food and nourishment for their predators ...

    Interesting .. leave a few nettles around for the wildlife .. cheers Hilary

    PS Happy New Year .. suspect I haven't got here yet!

    1. :-))) I too wish you a wonderful New Year Hilary.

  2. I don't think I've tasted that borek! I wonder if I could make some...