Category Archives: Nettle

Printemps est ici!

I am glad for Winter to be over and the more sun and warm days that have arrived. Again we said our goodbyes with Marzanna and let her take the Winter away down the river waters.

I am excited to see young nettle shoots, I admire this stingy plant for it is so versatile: a herb, a cooking ingredient and source of fibres for fabrics. I am definitely itching to try cooking with them soon, I would like to try a nettle soup and a nettle bread. I happened to find a recipe for a nettle beer, olden days beverage as well. Now I need to put gloves on and go gathering.

I tried my hand at baking sourdough breads and embarked on making my own starter. I am still learning, we got very encouraging results: a rye bread was pretty close to breads I remember from my childhood in Poland with thick crunchy skin, moist dark inside, very aromatic and very moreish. One thing is sure: it requires patience and understanding that a sourdough bread is quite a temperamental creature. I will keep you posted shortly with a journal of our bread journey so far.

Spring is bringing our garden to life – herbs are ready for picking, alpine strawberries are already flowering, though it is too cold to expect any fruits as yet. Bees are busy with lobelia and apple trees are in the bloom as well, even rosemary bush is flowering.

In the autumn, Big Son and I started learning French at a weekly class and I am hoping to be able to speak more while in France over the summer.  The incentive of being able to strike a chat at a market is helping with birthing pains experienced. The feeling of excitement mixed with nervousness, as French holidays are approaching fast. But the class is fun, though work is serious if you want to make a progress.

Easter came and went, this year it was a low profile affair. We did not cook or bake too much as we planned to too see the World Endurance Championship in Silverstone. The race came to Britain to give us a glimpse into the historical 24 hours race that takes place every year in Le Mans, France. Silverstone’s race was six hours only, though even that was feeling long. I enjoyed the start, the roar of all cars taking off together and quickly the cars got split making it not easy to follow the race.

After spending some time on stands right opposite the pitstops, we took on leisurely walk along the track. Weather was kind enough, but hats and gloves were a must. Following the track allows you to experience the race and view the cars in all different angles and turns. While a radio commentary was constantly being broken by cars racing past, we saw many fans turned amateur photographers staking out vantage points to take photos. The day was good, but we cut it short to return home in time to tune into F1 race live broadcast from Bahrain. Lewis did not win this time.

As I said, we took this Easter easy in terms of food extravaganza. We planned and executed a plan of getting Alban Buns form St Albans Cathedral. We meant to try them for some time, but it was so popular that in past years, we were usually left empty handed. As you could see, this hunt was successful and we returned home loaded. Alban buns are said to be the predecessor of hot cross buns, created in the middle ages by the 14th century monk. The recipe is kept secret and every year during Lent until Easter Monday, buns are available at the Cathedral (if you are lucky). Each year different local bakery prepares the buns. These buns are spicy in a very good way, enriched with cardamons and currants and the cross is made with a knife without piping. Serve it warm with butter, it is very filling indeed.

April is the month to go on a bluebells hunt and we did exactly that in our old neck of woods in Hitchwood Lane. The place is fully blue and air is filled with scents of flowers. It is a very magical time of a year and passes quickly, so remember to make time to experience it. The English bluebell is a native species that is being threatened by the Spanish garden bluebells and it is illegal to collect them for sale. Enjoy the spring guys!

Długa Historia Tkaniny z Pokrzywy

Tkaniny z pokrzywy były od dawna produkowane przez ludzi, którzy odkryli, że jest to świetne źródło włókien już tysiące lat temu. Ale historia pokrzywy nie jest tak odległa jak by się mogło wydawać, ponieważ tkaniny z włókien pokrzywy robimy aż do dzisiaj. Ta bardzo parząca roślina znów wychodzi z zakamarków historii jako ekologiczne i odnawialne źródło włókien do produkcji tkanin.

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Już starożytni Egipcjanie zawijali mumie w tkaninę ramie, która należy do tej samej rodziny co pokrzywa. Pokrzywa występująca w Europie (Uriotica Dioica), była wykorzystywana przez Wikingów i plemiona Słowian w Centralnej Europie. W pochówku mężczyzny z Epoki Brązu, który został odkryty w Danii, archeolodzy znaleźli liczącą 3000 lat tkaninę z pokrzywy. Prochy mężczyzny zostały zawinięte w pokrzywową tkaninę przed umieszczeniem w urnie z brązu. Co jest interesujące, pokrzywa nie jest rośliną występującą naturalnie na tych obszarach Danii i po dalszych analizach naukowcy ustalili, że pokrzywa z której zrobiono tkaninę pochodziła z terenów dzisiejszej Austrii. Potwierdza to teorię, ze tkaniny z pokrzywy była szczególnym i cennym materiałem, który był przedmiotem wymiany handlowej a nawet symbolem statusu.

Odkrycie tak pradawnej tkaniny jest bardzo rzadkie, bowiem by tkaniny mogły zostać zachowane przez wieki, wymagają one specjalnych warunków, jak na przykład: środowisko wodne czy zwęglenie. To unikalne znalezisko z Danii, dało dowód na to, że pomimo tego iż ludzie uprawiali już len na ubrania, wciąż bardzo cenili i wykorzystywali dziko rosnącą pokrzywę.  Być może dlatego, że z pokrzywy można pozyskać włókna prawie tak delikatne jak czysty jedwab, więc był to materiał dość luksusowy.

Poza luksusowymi właściwościami tkaniny z pokrzywy, trzeba też pamiętać o innym, bardzo ważnym dla naszych przodków, atrybucie tej rośliny. Słowianie i Wikingowie wierzyli, że pokrzywa ma właściwości magiczne. W Letnie Przesilenie, Słowianie wieszali kępy pokrzywy we wejściach, aby chroniła ich i plony przed złymi mocami. Wierzono też, że pokrzywa ma moc rozganiania burz, wiec była ona palona na polach, aby jej dym rozpędził burzowe chmury. Wobec tego nie dziwi, że tkanina z pokrzywy była wtedy wyjątkowym, szczególnego przeznaczenia materiałem.

Pokrzywa oczywiście była też znana jako roślina lecznicza. Przykładowo pokrzywa była stosowana przy krwawieniach czy zainfekowanych ranach, by wspomnieć tylko kilka zastosowań (za Hipokratesem). Jak widać jest to roślina o wielu zastosowaniach, więc nasi przodkowie sprytnie korzystali z pokrzywy która rośnie tak swobodnie i obficie prawie wszędzie. Włókna pokrzywy były używane też przez rybaków, którzy pletli z niej sieci i liny. Jej włókna są bowiem bardzo mocne, wodoodporne i nie gniją tak szybko jak sieci z innych włókien. Na Kamczatce, na przykład, włókna pokrzywowe były cenione przez rybaków ze względu na lekkość i wodoodporność – pokrzywa była jedynym źródłem takich włókien dostępnym dla ludności na tych terenach. Inny przykład: na dawnych terenach Polski z włókien pokrzywy wyplatano sita do przesiewania mąki czy przecedzania miodu.

Na rynku można obecnie znaleźć włókna i materiały wytworzone z pokrzywy pozyskiwanej w Himalajach, w Nepalu (Girardinia diversifolia), która rośnie do wysokości nawet 3 metrów. Nasza pokrzywa europejska była popularna aż do czasu wyparcia przez tańszą bawełnę i jedwab. Ale w Polsce, tkaniny z pokrzywy były powszechnie używane aż do XVII wieku – od  XII wieku najwiecej tkanin wyrabiano właśnie z pokrzywy. Fakt, że tkanina z pokrzywy jest o wiele delikatniejsza w dotyku niż len czy konopie, sprawił że z takiej tkaniny chętniej szyto koszule czy bieliznę. Istotne było też to, że pokrzywa była o wiele tańsza od jedwabiu, na który stać było tylko ludzi zamożnych.

Już wcześniej wspomniałam, że włókna pokrzywy były też popularne w Skandynawii, włókna pokrzywy znaleziono we wraku statku Wikingów, być może stosowano ją do wyplatania sieci. W XVIII w Skandynawii nastąpił duży powrót pokrzywy jako surowca włókienniczego. Z włókien lokalnej pokrzywy jak i importowanego ramie, tkano luksusowe tkaniny na suknie. Udało mi się znaleźć bardzo interesujący zapis z 1813 roku, o kobiecie z Feyn w Danii, która z tkaniny z pokrzywy uszyła 21 łokci obrusów i tkaniny obiciowej. W kolejnym roku, z 2 kamieni pokrzywy (wagowo około 12kg) udało jej się zrobić 12 chusteczek, 20 metrów tkaniny obrusowej i 14 metrów tkaniny obiciowej. Jest to prawdziwy i dość imponujący zapis tego jak wiele można wytworzyć z naszej skromnej pokrzywy.

camira nettleW Wielkiej Brytanii znany jest termin “Scotch cloth” – tkanina szkocka, pod tą nazwą kryje się tkanina pokrzywowa. Włókna z pokrzywy były popularne w Szkocji przez stulecia. XIX-wieczny szkocki poeta Thomas Campbell pisał: “In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept on nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought the nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen”. Co pozwoliłam sobie przetłumaczyć na potrzeby artykułu: “W Szkocji jadałem pokrzywy, spałem na pokrzywach i jadałem na obrusach z pokrzywy. Łodygi pokrzywy są równie dobrym źródłem włókien na tkaniny jak len. Moja matka mówiła, że pokrzywa jest bardziej wytrzymała niż jakiekolwiek inne włókna lniane”. To bardzo piękny i miły hołd dla tej parzącej, niby zwyczajnej rośliny.

Jest też więcej interesujących dowodów na to, ze pokrzywa była uważana za roślinę niezwyczajną. Być może pamiętacie starą baśń tak pięknie opisaną przez Jana Christiana Andersena, Dzikie Łabędzie, o dziewczynie która utkała koszule z parzącej pokrzywy by uratować swoich 11 braci przemienionych w łabędzie. Całkiem naturalne wydaje się, że ludzie nazywali magią to, że tak parząca roślina jak pokrzywa potrafi dawać tak miękkie i jedwabiste włókna.

Wróćmy jednak do rzeczywistości i zajrzyjmy do nie tak odległej historii. Tkanina z europejskiej pokrzywy powróciła w czasie Pierwszej Wojny Światowej w Niemczech. Zapasy bawełny się  skończyły a ze względu na to że Wielka Brytania dominowała na morzach, sprowadzenie bawełny było prawie niemożliwe, więc Niemcy zmuszeni byli znaleźć inne dostępne źródło materiałów odpowiednich do uszycia mundurów. Według dostępnych informacji, Niemcy wykorzystali włókna pokrzywy nie tylko do produkcji mundurów, ale rownież do szycia worków na piasek. Wspomina się również, że Niemcy wykorzystywali tez barwnik pozyskiwany z pokrzywy.

IMG_20160102_124400Sprzedawane w sklepach włókna z pokrzywy to  wyłącznie włókna z pokrzywy himalajskiej. Włókno tej pokrzywy nazywane jest przez miejscową ludność Allo. Włókno i tkanina z Allo są produkowane metodami tradycyjnymi przez miejscową ludność, wspieraną przez ruch Fair Trade. Prowadzone są badania nad uprawą pokrzywy europejskiej pod produkcję włókien i tkanin, ale do dziś nie mam informacji o żadnym producencie włókien z naszej pokrzywy. Oczywiście, wyzwaniem jest uprawa na polach i zbiór pokrzywy na wiekszą skalę, aby takie przedsięwzięcie miało również sens ekonomiczny. Ze względu na rosnące zainteresowanie odnawialnymi źródłami włókien, do tego pozyskiwanymi lokalnie, w przeciwieństwie do bawełny, która jest rośliną bardzo obciążającą środowisko naturalne, uważam że już niedługo nasza europejska pokrzywa powróci do nas jako tkanina, a nie tylko pospolity a jak niezwykły chwast.

Nettle’s Long Story

“If they would eat nettles in March, and drink Mugwort in May, 
So many fine maidens would not go to the clay.” – Funeral Song of a Scottish Mermaid. 

IMG_20160422_123345Using nettle for clothing is not anything new, as humans discovered it is a excellent source of fibre  millennia ago. And it is not long distant history as it may seem, because we still use nettle fibres to make fabric. It is beautiful that this prickly plant is coming out from the shadows of history again and being considered as one of sustainable sources of fibres.

Ancient Egyptians wrapped mummies in ramie cloth, made of plant fibres from the nettle family. European nettle (Uriotica Dioica) was used by Vikings and Slavic tribes in the Central Europe alike. In the Bronze Age burial of an important man in Denmark, archaeologist discovered that the nearly 3000 years old cloth that bones were wrapped in before placing in bronze urn, was made of nettle. The nettle does not grow in Denmark and in further analysis, it turned out this nettle was from Austria region of Europe. It is evident that nettle cloth was considered a special, expensive material, traded in Europe and something of a status symbol.

It is unusual to find ancient cloth, unless it got luckily preserved in favourable conditions like being water logged or carbonised for example. Therefore, such a rare find like this from Denmark, confirms that despite already growing flax for cloth production, people still were using wild nettles, because it gives fibres as fine as raw silk and has that luxury touch.

Regardless of its luxurious properties as a fabric, it was not the only reason for nettle being so venerated. It was considered to be a magical plant by the Slavic and Vikings alike. At the Summer Solstice, Slavic tribes used to hang bunches of it in doorways to protect agains demons or protect crops on their fields. Nettle was also believed to keep away thunderstorms, so it was often burnt as the smoke was meant to scare away stormy clouds. Hence, cloth made of nettle must have been considered a protective, revered material to adorn oneself.

To top it up, nettle was known for medicinal uses as well; used to treat bleeding or infected wounds to cite a few, as mentioned in Hippocrates texts. There were plenty of benefits for a plant growing spontaneously in ditches or woods and our ancestors were no fools in exploiting the plant.

Nettle fibres were long used to produce ropes or nets as it has a very good strength and is water resistant and does not rot easily. In Kamchatka, fishermen were using it for netting, because it was so light and water resistant, truly being the only fibrous plant available for them to feed such needs. In Central Europe, people used nettle fibres to make sieves for flour sifting.

The newly rediscovered nettle yarns available on the market now are sourced in Nepal, from a giant nettle (Girardinia diversifolia), growing to the impressive height of 3 metres at least. Though European nettle was widely used for a very long time until cheaper cotton and silk took over. In Poland, nettle textiles were very popular until the 17th century. Actually since the 12th century, the nettle was used there in large quantities to make fabrics. It was due to its delicacy to skin that nettle was beating flax or hemp as a cloth of choice for next to skin clothing. Also nettle was much cheaper than silk which was only affordable for people of means.

Nettle was also used in Scandinavia. It was found in a Viking ship, so possibly nettle was used for nets. In 18th century Scandinavia, nettle fabric returned and local nettle fibres along with imported ramie were used to produce finely woven dresses. I came across a record from 1813 of a woman form Feyn in Denmark, who had woven 21 ells (24 metres) of linen and ticking from nettle. The following year, she had turned 2 stones of nettle fibres into 12 pocket handkerchieves, 20 metres of checked linen and 14 metres of bed ticking. That is an impressive, real account of what used to be made of European nettle.camira nettle

In Britain, there is a term “Scotch cloth” that refers to a fabric made of nettle. Nettle was popular in Scotland for many centuries. Thomas Campbell, 19th century poet, wrote: “In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept on nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought the nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen”. It is a beautiful tribute to that prickly plant.

There is more evidence of nettle being considered to have magical qualities. You must remember Hans Christian Andersen fairytale about a girl who wove nettle shirts to bring back her 11 brothers who were turned into swans. Obviously, turning the prickly plant into silky smooth cloth was like a magic for people.

Coming back to the real world and more recent history, nettle made a comeback again during WWI in Germany. There the cotton supplies dried up as the British Empire ruled the seas and sourcing cotton from overseas was nearly impossible. Germans had to find another sustainable source of cloth suitable to sew uniforms for soldiers. It is said that nettle was used for that purpose as well as to make sandbags. It is mentioned that Germans used dye made of nettle as well.

IMG_20160102_124400Nowadays, you can find ready to weave nettle fibre easily online but all of them are made of the aforementioned Himalayan giant nettle. This fibre is also known as Allo. Fibre and cloth are produced in a traditional way in Nepal locally boosted by fair trade initiatives. There is ongoing research into growing European nettle for fabric production, but for now I have no knowledge of any producer of European nettle fibre. One challenge being the set up of large scale farms to grow and harvest the crop. With growing interest into sustainable and local alternatives to cotton, which is heavy on the environment, I believe it is just a matter of time for European nettle to come back.

Nettle Diary Entry 02.2016

In January I went to Warsaw and spent one afternoon checking out few shops with natural fabrics to inquire about nettle or hemp samples.

I didn’t manage to google any shops myself, but with a little tip off from the old friend, I started at a fabric shop in Mokotow. It was recommended as the long established and well supplied shop for all those with zeal for tailoring or home sewing. Astonishingly, the place was buzzing on Saturday afternoon with all types of customers, from older ladies trying to find a fabric matching the existing outfits to funky dressed younger crowds scouring for some unique pieces. I was taken in with their stock, unfortunately only natural local cloth I came across was Polish linen.

Nevertheless, I was prompted to call in to another linen shop, just two tram stops away. Before hopping on a tram, we popped in the adjacent shop, enticed by interesting and quite eclectic stuff, like second hand or recycled fabrics, hand made laces and oddish clothing.

The next linen shop in Mokotow, looked like run by one family and it had nothing of hemp or nettle though the owner was quite intrigued by my inquiry. As he walked us to the door, he admitted that since he runs the shop for 20 years, no one ever came by to ask about fabric made of nettle.

It didn’t dampen our spirits, we simply loved the tram ride up north towards Centrum – it was bright sunny winter day and you can feel Saturday buzz of the city. We changed by Politechnika for metro, again changed for a new metro line and resurfaced right on Aleja Jana Pawla.

On the next stop off Hala Mirowska – the old indoor market hall, we visited another fabric shop. We were told it is a must to see since it opened in PRL times and still continues the same style of service. It was bizarre to step into the past, all display and older ladies selling the cloth as they used to for decades. Once you decide on fabric, it will get measured, cut and you receive a hand scribbled piece of paper to take to a cashier across the shop to pay. Though this time, no nettle  or hemp fabric was available and with no smile on her face the lady bid us goodbye.

Tracing our footsteps from years before, we strolled to a last linen shop on our list, situated right on Marszalkowska. The owner was closing for the day but she let us in. It stocks Polish linen only, fabrics and ready made outfits alike and it turned out the owner was quite chatty and well informed. Although, she could not help me in my research on Polish nettle fabric as such, but mentioned a company producing a hemp clothing, possibly from Lodz, and encouraged me to check out the Polish Chamber of Flax and Hemp.

It was a quite productive Saturday afternoon, funny and filled with trips down the memory lane. Warsaw was buzzy, filled with tram noises and getting ready for Saturday night fun. I truly felt like I got a few good leads to follow in my research. And a cherry on my cake was the Saturday evening in beautiful Warsaw just starting as the sun was setting and the lights were turning on.

Nettle Diary Entry 01.2016

IMG_20160102_124357I’m going to record my journey with a Nettle Project I created last year. It’s a work in progress and I hope to take my personal story onto new tracks and new places. I became fascinated and excited about that little prickly plant and I keep on learning how versatile and humble it is.

This blog is a suitable place to keep a track record, share my progress, achievements or challenges I’ll encounter. I would like to encourage you the reader, to follow it and maybe if you care or dare to contribute to the journey with advice, a kind word and a good critique. Though mostly, I’m aiming for that Nettle Project Diary to be my way of keeping myself and my eyes on the game and the good game it ought to be.

All I actually knew before was that nettle is a weed that grows spontaneously. It is used as a medicinal herb or as a culinary ingredient in soups or salads. What I found out by chance is that it was widely used centuries ago to create yarns and produce clothing. While visiting Flag Fen site, one of curators brought our attention to it as a clothing material source and its natural and eco qualities. It was enough to entice me because of my interest in ancient human history. Therefore, I followed it more to feed my curiosity, and thought it could be an original topic for a blog entry.

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Soon I realised that it may be a prickly but very thrilling project that is happening in the right time and leading me to a new personal enterprise. My aim is to create a modern garment using the nettle yarn. Something I did not find at the moment, but I believe it is feasible. I’ll share what I have found out about the plant, and I continue to pursue my idea of nettle as the ecological material that you can wear.