Smart, smart nettle. Yesterday my friend Savahn and I went out to pick nettles with my new herb dog, Molly. We arrived at our picking spot to find that the nettles were in a fine mood, stalks blowing gently in the warm spring breezes, dappled sunlight speckling their leaves. As we settled in, acquainting ourselves with the place and the plants growing there, Molly advanced toward a nettle. Puppies generally test the world through their noses and sharp-toothed little mouths and I could do nothing to protect her from this potent lesson. She sniffed a leaf, recoiled a bit, then chomped one casually. The result? Yep, nettle will even sting a PUPPY!!
Molly retreated looking somewhat confused and punished. A bit later as I receded deeper into the patch and was obscured from her view, she decided to rush the nettles and find me. I could see her getting stung again and again as she bounded bravely through the nose-level nettles. At this point I intervened, of course, scooping her up and placing her in a safe spot. She looked rather dazed, but recovered quickly.
Throughout the course of the afternoon as we travelled from patch to patch, I watched as she gingerly chose her steps, AVOIDING nettles! It would seem, Dear Readers, that Molly has learned to identify her first plant! (And in the process, shed a bit of puppy naivety for street smarts).
I’m inclined to think that this is precisely what nettles intended to do by evolving such a memorable defense against predation. As one of the earliest (and tastiest) green plants to emerge after winter, they had to do something or they would have been eaten to death! They would have just popped out of the ground after the ice age (give or take a few thousand years) and CHOMP. Done. Finished. So they sprouted stingers to prevent nibbling by animals. Now the only ones they have to contend with are humans with our rubber gloves (another brilliant adaptation), goats, and (hypothetically) giraffes, who also can’t feel their mouths. Well done, Nettles. And well done Humans, you clever monkeys, for figuring out that if you cook or dry the nettles, they lose their sting.
So, feeling smug about the ingenuity of my species and the botanical acumen of my dog, I went home and made all of my nettle harvest into NETTLE PESTO! You really ought to try it, but you have to make your own. I have absolute faith in your ability to locate and make a positive ID on a stinging nettle. Just walk around in the lush spring growth in a moist woodland wearing shorts.