Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Sorry for such the long hiatus, unannounced. With all the holidays, I was swamped with family events and commitment. Forgive me? Let’s start the New Year with a name that I have found to be polarizing in popular opinion: Nettle.
Commonly thought of as a troublesome weed, (thus the sometimes negative reaction people have to the thought of having a child named after one) I think the plant is largely misunderstood. To begin, there are six subspecies of true nettle – some “sting”, some do not. Though part of a different genus, other plants bearing the name “nettle” are known as deadnettle or henbit nettle (which are actually named lamiums). A fun fact is there is actually a species of jellyfish known as sea nettles. The plants are native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America. The nettles that sting do so by injecting histamine and other bio-chemicals through needle-like hairs on the stems and leaves. It is one of the first plants to grow in an area where contamination has taken place in the earth, signifying the ground is now good for use.
The word “nettle” is thought to have come from the Middle/Old English word netele – meaning needle as it refers to the stinging hairs. As a verb, being nettled or nettling is to irritate, annoy, or provoke. There is an Australian idiom (“grasp the nettle”) that basically means to tackles an unpleasant task. References to the plant are scattered throughout the Bible (mostly with negative connotations), notably in Proverbs 24:30-31 and Job 30:7, though there is some debate on which actual plant is being referenced. Many believe the intended plant is actually thistle, bramble (blackberry bush), a species of wild mustard, or some other thorny plant. I’ve only found one popular culture reference of this word being used as a name: the Disney television show Sofia the First where the name is bestowed upon an evil fairy (Ms. Nettle).
Wow, a lot of negative and very little positive thus far. The good news is, despite the bad reputation, this herbaceous plant has a lot of positive uses and is actually quite a lovely companion plant instead of just an annoying weed. Its use medicinally goes back into antiquity. Nettle is one of the nine plants invoked in the 10th century Anglo-Saxon poem Nine Herbs Charms which was intended as a treatment for poisoning and infection. The poem repeatedly references the numbers 9 and 3 which were numbers significant to Germanic paganism (the poem also mentions the Germanic god Woden), however it also contains Christian elements. After the poem was chanted aloud 3 times over each herb, the nine herbs were crushed into dust and mixed with apple juice and were poured into the mouth, ears, and over the wound and then applied as a salve. In Austrian traditional medicine, the leaves are eaten or brewed into a tea to treat kidney and urinary tract infections, disorders of the skin and cardiovascular system, hemorrhage, flu, and gout. Modernly, nettle leaves are commonly used for treatment of arthritis in Germany. It is, apparently, also good for making your hair glossy and fighting dandruff as it is used in shampoos. The plant is also a great foodstuff for humans and the fibers from its stems can be used in textiles. (Note worthy: nettle grows well without pesticides and would make a great cost-effective alternative to cotton if you can deal with the coarser fibers) In the garden, the growth of nettle indicates high soil fertility. It also encourages beneficial insects; it is an exclusive food source for several species of butterfly and moth, namely the Peacock Butterfly, The Gothic Moth, and The Flame Moth. Sometimes, the roots provide food for the Ghost Moth.
Nettle has never been a common given name. It is actually much more common as a surname. I have seen two groups of people who actually see the appeal of this name: the nature loving and the “gothic”. I happen to belong to the former; however I do see why it would appeal to the latter. I personally love this name and it is in my top 2 choices for if I ever have another daughter. It is decidedly gender neutral as a name and would be a lovely and intriguing, if not daring, choice on either a baby boy or girl.

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