Nettles flourish on disturbed ground or highly fertile land, liking high levels of nitrogen, so they grow in abundance where human activity such as intensive farming or waste dumping has enriched the soil. The more we artificially fertilise the soil, the more nettles will grow. Every child quickly learns to recognise nettles through the experience of being stung, and is taught to seek out dock leaves to rub on the sting for relief. This is a lesson that nature provides comfort as well as pain, and that beings that complement and balance each other are found in the same vicinity. It reminds me of what has been said about disaster situations, ‘look for the helpers’- a life lesson that reminds us to see the hope and the connection when we are in despair.
Nettles are also highly nutritious once cooked or dried out to neutralise the toxins, providing iron and other minerals. As a medicine nettles can help with hay fever. So nettles have a dual nature of both warrior and healer/helper. This has led to the saying, ‘grasp the nettle’. If one grasps the nettle firmly and boldly in the right way, with the stinging hairs lying flat to the plant, it is possible to pick it without being stung. So the phrase is used to mean tackle a difficult problem with courage. My thought is that it also means once you face it bravely you find the positive benefit (the nourishment) within.
©Janey Colbourne 2017
Here is a good article about the teachings of Poison Ivy from Dana at The Druid’s Garden blog: