Nettles were cultivated in northern Europe to make linen, coarse sailcloth and fishnets. To make the cloth, nettles were cut, dried and soaked in water. The fibres were then separated and spun into yarn. Eventually, flax superseded nettles. But they were still being used in Scotland in the 19th century to make a crude household cloth known as “scotch-cloth.” In the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Princess and the Eleven Swans, the coats the princess made for her brothers were woven from nettles.
It is to be hoped in this enlightened age that gardeners will invite this nutritious herb (rich in vitamins A and C, iron and protein) into their garden and not regard it as a weed. Recent tests in organic gardening have confirmed that nettles make excellent companion plants, helping to produce healthy vegetables such as broccoli and conferring keeping qualities on tomatoes by impeding the fermentation process in the plant’s juices. Nettles will increase the production of essential oil in peppermint and boost the potency of all nearby herbs. Nettles in your compost heap will not only add nutrients, but also accelerate the breakdown of matter into robust humus.
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