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Finocchio
Southernwood
(archangelica Officinalis Hoffm)
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Poppy
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House Leek (crassulaceoe)



Nettle








No plant is more commonplace and plentiful in our fields and
hedges throughout an English summer than the familiar stinging
Nettle. And yet most persons unknowingly include under this single
appellation several distinct herbs. Actually as Nettles are to be
found: the annual Urtica dioica, or true Stinging Nettle; the
perennial Urtica urens (burning); the White Dead Nettle; the
Archangel, or Yellow Weasel Snout, and the Purple Hedge Nettle.
This title Urtica comes ab urendo, from burning.

The plant which stings has a round hairy stalk, and carries only a
dull colourless bloom, whereas the others are labiate herbs with
square stems, and conspicuous lipped flowers. As Simples only the
great Stinging Nettle, the lesser Stinging Nettle, and the white Dead
Nettle call for observation. Also another variety of our Stinging
Nettle is the Urtica pilulifera, called by [383] corruption the
Roman Nettle, really because found abundantly at Romney in Kent.
But a legend obtains belief with some that Roman soldiers first
brought with them to England the seeds of this plant, and sowed it
about for their personal uses. They heard before coming that the
climate here was so cold that it might not be endured without some
friction to warm the blood, and to stir up the natural heat; and they
therefore bethought them to provide Nettles wherewith to chafe
their limbs when stiffe and much benummed. Or, again, Lyte says,
They do call al such strange herbes as be unknown of the common
people Romish, or Romayne herbes, although the same be brought
direct from Sweden or Norweigh. The cure for Nettle stings has
been from early times to rub the part with a dock leaf. The dead
Nettles are so named as having no sting, but possessing nettle-like
leaves. The stinging effect of the true Nettle is caused by an acrid
secretion contained in minute vesicles at the base of each of the stiff
hairs; and urtication, or flogging, with Nettles, is an old external
remedy, which was long practised for chronic rheumatism, and loss
of muscular power. Tacta quod exurat digitos urtica tenentis.
--Macer. Tea made from the young tops is a Devonshire cure for
Nettle-rash. Gerard says, the Nettle is a good medicine for them
that cannot breathe unless they hold their necks upright: and being
eaten boiled with periwinkles it makes the body soluble.

The word Nettle is derived from net, meaning something spun, or
sewn; and it indicates the thread made from the hairs of the plant,
and formerly used among Scandinavian nations. This was likewise
employed by Scotch weavers in the seventeenth century. Westmacott,
the historian, says, Scotch cloth is only the [384] housewifery
of the Nettle. And the poet Campbell writes in one of his
letters, I have slept in Nettle sheets, and dined off a Nettle table
cloth: and I have heard my mother say she thought Nettle cloth
more durable than any other linen. Goldsmith has recorded the
rubbing of a cock's heart with stinging Nettles to make it hatch
hen's eggs. Some think the word Nettle an alteration of the
Anglo-Saxon Needl, with reference to the needle-like stings. Spun
silk is now made in England from Ramie the decorticated fibre of
Nettles after washing away the glutinous juice from under their
bark.

The seeds (dioica) contain a fine oil, and powerfully stimulate the
sexual functions.

In Russia, as a recent mode of treatment, urtication is now
enthusiastically commended, that is, slapping, or pricking with a
bundle of fresh Nettle twigs for one or more minutes, once, or
several times in the day. It is a superlative method of cure because
harmless (neither irritating the kidneys nor disfiguring the skin),
cleanly, simple in application, rapid in its effects, and cheap, though
perhaps somewhat rude. For sciatica, for incipient wasting, for the
difficult breathing of some heart troubles (where such stimulation
along the backbone affords more prompt and complete relief than
any other treatment), for some coughs palsy, suppression of the
monthly flow in women, rheumatism, and for lack of muscular
energy, this urtication is said to be an invaluable resuscitating
measure which has been successfully resorted to by the peasantry of
Russia from time immemorial. It will sometimes produce a crop of
small harmless blisters.

The analysis of the fresh Nettle shows a presence of formic acid (the
irritating principle of the stinging hairs), with mucilage, salts,
ammonia, carbonic acid, and [385] water. A strong decoction of
Nettles drunk too freely by mistake has produced severe burning
over the whole body, with general redness, and a sense of being
stung. The features became swollen, and minute vesicles appeared
on the skin, which burst, and discharged a limpid fluid. No fever
accompanied the attack, and after five or six days the eruption dried
up. A medicinal tincture (H.) is made from the entire plant with
spirit of wine: and this, as taught by the principle of similars, may
be confidently given in small diluted doses to mitigate such a
totality of symptoms as now described, whether coming on as an
attack of severe Nettle rash, or assuming some more pronounced
eruptive aspect, such as chicken pox. The same tincture also acts
admirably in cases of burns, when the deep skin is not destructively
involved. And again for relieving the itching of the fundament
caused by the presence of threadworms.

Burns, says Lucomsky, may be rapidly cured by applying over
them linen cloths well wetted with an alcoholic tincture of the
Stinging Nettle prepared from the fresh plant, this being diluted with
an equal, or a double quantity of cold water. The cloths should be
frequently re-wetted, but without removing them, so as to prevent
pain from exposure. Dr. Burnett has shown conclusively that Nettle
tea, and Nettle tincture (ten drops for a dose in water), are curative
of feverish gout, as well as of intermittent fever and ague. Either
remedy will promote a speedy extrication of gravel through the
kidneys. Again the Nettle was a favourite old English remedy for
consumption, as already mentioned (see Mugwort), with reference
to the mermaid of the Clyde, when she beheld with regret the
untimely funeral of a young Glasgow maiden.

[386] Fresh Nettle juice given in doses of from one to two
tablespoonfuls is a most serviceable remedy for all sorts of bleeding,
whether from the nose, the lungs, or some internal organ. Also the
decoction of the leaves and stalks taken in moderate quantities is
capital for many of the minor skin maladies.

An alcoholic extract is made officinally from the entire young plant
gathered in the spring, and some of this if applied on cotton wool
will arrest bleeding from the nose, or after the extraction of a tooth,
when persistent. If a leaf of the plant be put upon the tongue and
pressed against the roof of the mouth, it will stop a bleeding from
the nose. Taken as a fresh young vegetable in the spring, or early
summer, Nettle tops make a very wholesome and succulent dish of
greens, which is slightly laxative; but during Autumn they are
hurtful. In Italy where herb soups are in high favour, herb knodel
(or round balls made like a dumpling in size and consistency) of
Nettles are esteemed as nourishing and medicinal. The greater
Nettle (Urtica dioica), and the lesser Nettle (Urtica urens)
possess stinging properties in common.

A crystalline alkaloid which is fatal to frogs in a dose of one
centigramme, has been isolated from the common Stinging Nettle.
The watery extract has but little effect on mammals: but in the frog
it causes paralysis, beginning in the great nervous centres and
finally stopping the action of the heart. If planted in the
neighbourhood of beehives, the Nettle will serve to drive away
frogs.

The expressed seeds yield an oil which may be used for burning in
lamps. Nettle leaves, rubbed into wooden vessels, such as tubs, &c.,
will prevent their leaking. The juice of the leaves coagulates, and
fills up the [387] interstices of the wood. When dried the leaves will
often relieve asthma and similar bronchial troubles by inhalation,
although other means have failed. Eight or ten grains should be
burnt, and the fumes inspired at bedtime.

The Lamium album (white dead Nettle), a labiate plant, though
not of the stinging Nettle order, is likewise of special use for
arresting haemorrhage, as in spitting of blood, dysentery, and female
fluxes. Its name Lamium is got from the Greek laimos, the
throat, because of the shape of its corollae. If the plant be macerated
in alcohol for a week, then cotton wool dipped in the liquid is as
efficacious for staying bleeding, when applied to the spot, as the
strongly astringent muriate of iron. Also, a tincture of the flowers is
made (H.) for internal use in similar cases. From five to ten drops of
this tincture should be given for a dose with a tablespoonful of cold
water. The Red Nettle, another Lamium, is also called Archangel,
because it blossoms on St. Michael's day, May 8th. If made into a
tea and sweetened with honey, it promotes perspiration, and acts on
the kidneys. The white dead Nettle is a degenerate form of this
purple herb as shown by still possessing on its petals the same
brown markings. Nevertheless, having disobeyed the laws of its growth,
it has lost its original colour, and, like the Lady of Shalott, it
is fain to complain the curse has come upon me. Count Mattaei's
nostrum Pettorale is thought to be got from the Galeopsis
(hemp Nettle), another of the labiate herbs, with Nettle-like leaves,
but no stinging hairs, named from galee, a cat, or weazel, and
opsis, a countenance, because supposed to have a blossom
resembling the face of the animal specified.





Next: Night Shade Deadly (_belladonna_)

Previous: Mustard



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