Monday, 21 July 2008

Flog me with nettles

It’s a jungle out there. A wet summer has brought with it an explosion of growth and a plague of mosquitoes. Many more warm winters and malaria won’t be far behind.

Forget about biting insects for the time being, though. Global warming’s current seasonal aberration is eight-feet high nettles. I had to run through a field of the things yesterday as part of the 14th Fairlands Valley Challenge. The nettles aren’t meant to be part of the challenge, any more than the tree-like brambles that have grown up among them, trying to entangle and trip you, like some flesh-tearing triffids. It’s a trail marathon, not a rainforest survival test, and it’s in Hertfordshire, not the Congo.

I’ve never seen nettles like these in such size and number. I’ve heard tell of New Zealand’s Urtica ferox, 'ongaonga' to the locals, a tree nettle said to grow to five metres in height and capable of killing a fully-grown man with a single glance. But these fat-fruited, heavy-headed, hirsute stingers near Stevenage (can a nettle be hirsute? You wouldn’t ask if you’d seen them) were something new to me. And definitely not what you need at the 20-mile mark.

There is, apparently, a practice called urtication – flogging with nettles – which sounds very handy as a form of S&M gameplay, but is also supposed to be a longstanding folk-remedy for rheumatism. It’s based on the principle that by inducing wholesale inflammation of the skin you can provide short-term relief from rheumatic pain – presumably because the nettle stings hurt even more than the rheumatism.

This is the 'Stop your crying or I'll give you something to really cry about' theory of pain relief. There's nothing like breaking both elbows to take your mind off spraining your wrist. (Believe me, I've done it.) And there's nothing like running through a field of eight-feet high nettles to take your mind off the tiredness in your legs. It works for all of, oh, at least as long as it takes you to get out of the field.

A friend tells me that St Benedict, of Benedictine Order fame, used to strip off his clothes and roll about in nettles as a cure for ‘impure thoughts’. But I don’t suppose he was running a marathon at the time.

1 comment:

jane pritchard said...

Nettle soup. Delicious. Don't know about the other uses.