You’ve heard of nettle soup, perhaps you’ve even had a go at brewing nettle ale (it almost certainly turned out better than my batch). But have you considered wearing nettles?
That might sound like some medieval torture method – “Recant or ye shall weareth the stinging codpiece!” – but believe it or not even WW1 German uniforms were found to be woven from nettle thread, and the stringy stalks are renowned for their strength and use in making string, rope and fabric.
I didn’t call this site ‘Edible Kent’ or ‘Eat Kent’ or anything along those lines, tempted as I was, because foraging need not be all about what you can eat, or even just eat and drink – so here we are, it’s forageable crafternoon time.
This is a great activity I learned during Forest School training not too long ago: making nettle string. It’s best to wait until there are nice tall nettles in abundance. Find the tallest you can and snip them with scissors as low as possible (you’ll want gloves and long sleeves of course). Use your gloved hands to strip the stalks of their leaves, and head home with a bundle of denuded stalks. You may want to leave them a little while to allow them to lose their sting.
Lay the stalks on the ground or another surface and use something hard and flat (I use a rubbery camping mallet) to bash the stalks gently to flatten them (can you bash gently? hmm). Now you’ll be able, with care, to ease the stalk open. Remove the inner pith (with patience and care) so you are left with just the green outer skin of the stalk. Now, again with patience and care, try to split these into strands, preferably of roughly equal width.
Once you have three of these strands, you can simply plait them, and, adding new strands when needed, make nettle cordage as long as you like. Thinner strands tightly plaited can produce a string-like product (there’s a rather messy example on the right in the picture to the left) – which, if you’re willing to make it a longer project, could then be plaited with two other cords to make a stronger string.
Or use broad strands and you’ll likely end up with a beautiful plait in varied shades of nettle green – they make a nice bracelet (see below), but I’m sure you can think of your own uses.
Fiddly at first, it should become easier with practice as your hand/eye/body gets to know the properties of the natural material through use – you won’t even realise you’re learning as it’s such an absorbing, meditative practice to drift away on.
If you’d like to make strong nettle cord rather than the less robust but more decorative plaits, check out this useful Ray Mears video. He also shows a good method for separating the useful skin from the inner pith.