Stinging Nettles – A Cautionary Lesson For Tourists To Ireland

Stinging nettles love Ireland’s moist, fertile soil and grow prolifically. When wandering through the lush Irish countryside, remember nettles are Ireland’s equivalent to North American poison ivy.

The lasting effects of a nettle sting may not  be as severe as poison ivy rash, but every tourist to Ireland should learn to identify and avoid these stinging plants.

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Nettles grow in America too, but not as extensively as they do in Ireland and Britain.  Full grown plants are easily identified by their dark green coloring and serrated, pointed leaves.

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I learned my lesson the hard way with four little ones in an Irish graveyard two years ago.  The weather was beautiful when we visited the ancient resting place of my ancestors.  The cemetery lies in a windswept field on a cliff above the vast Atlantic ocean.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1304563

Nettles Love Old Cemeteries - © Copyright Bill Nicholls and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

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My four short-wearing, bare-legged kiddos quickly learned of the sting of an Irish nettle.  A chorus of “ooh’s, ahh’s and ouches” reached my ears just as I tried to warn them:

 

“Watch out for the nettles!”

 

Perching them on an old stone wall I inspected their nettled legs.  To my great relief I found a dock plant.  Quickly I plucked some leaves and rubbed their little legs.

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Nettles & Dock Plant

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Passed down from generation to generation, the nettle neutralizing power of a dock leaf is an old wives’ tale some quickly dismiss.  For me it saved eight little legs from severe blisters.  The old Irish saying goes like this:

 

“Neantóg a dhóigh mé agus cupóg a leigheas mé.”

(A nettle stung me and a dock leaf cured me)

 

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Dock Leaves Close-up - © Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

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I checked on the internet and learned nettle stings are acidic and therefore are neutralized by the alkaline secretions of the dock leaf.

As kids we rubbed our stinging skin with dock leaves, chanting:

 

“Dockin in, nettle out!

Dockin in, nettle out!”

 

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© Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

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Nettles may be a nuisance today, but in years gone by they sustained many Irish families when times were lean.  Nettle stew or soup is rich in nutrients.  Boiling the plant fronds in water removes their stinging properties, resulting in a meal with a similar taste to spinach.

I have never tasted nettle stew, but maybe someday when I am back in Ireland I will don my gloves to gather a hearty handful to boil.

 

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© Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

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Remember nettles love abandoned ruins.  Tourists searching for the homes of their ancestors in derelict spaces should be prepared to do battle with nettles.  If you are lucky to have good weather and are wearing shorts, remember to keep a pair of long pants close at hand to pull up over shorts, if you need to wade through nettles to gain access to an old farmhouse or building.
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© Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

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It is good to keep a long sleeved jacket in your car.  And don’t forget to bring some anti-histamine cream, just in case you can’t find a magical dock leaf to relieve that nettle sting.
And remember try not to scratch a nettle sting – it only makes it worse. Wishing you all happy days of touring in Ireland this summer, and may all your journeys be free of nettle stings.

 

Slan agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom