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Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Names: Nessel, Noedl (needle), Wergulu, Ortiga ancha

Medicinal Uses: High Vitamin C and iron content; eaten as a spring tonic. Used to promote circulation in frostbitten skin. It was brought to the British Isles by the Roman Legions, who would rub their arms with the leaves to keep their blood flowing in the cold, damp weather. Nettle juice is used to treat skin conditions; it is an antidote to the sting of the needles. It is given as a tonic for anemia and diabetes. Tea is drunk for urinary problems and hemorrhoids. Nursing mothers can take it to keep their milk flowing. Tea is used for arthritis and rheumatism, as it clears uric acid from the system. Compresses used on sore joints. Powdered leaves are inhaled for nosebleeds.

Household Uses: Whole plant yields a greenish-yellow dye, and can be retted and prepared like flax; this is called "Nessel-Garn" in Germany, which is also made into rope and paper. The astringent young leaves are used in facial steams, bath mixtures, and hair preparations. The silica in nettles helps falling hair. It can even be cooked and eaten as a pot herb, like mustard greens or spinach.

For Nettle Beer: In a large pot combine 2 gallons of cold water, 5 cups of washed, young Nettle leaves, 2 cups each of Dandelion leaves and Horehound or Meadowsweet flowers, and 2 ounces of bruised Ginger root. Boil gently for 40 minutes, then strain and stir in 1 ½ cups of brown sugar. When cooled to lukewarm temperature, toast a slice of bread and spread with one cube of fresh yeast. Float the bread yeast side up on the top of the mixture, cover and allow to ferment for 24 hours. At the end of this time, open and remove the residue from the top of the beer. Add 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar and bottle as you would an ale.

Traditional Magical Uses: Associated with Thor, nettles send curses back to their owner. Sprinkled around the house, it keeps evil away; thrown onto a fire, it averts danger; held in the hand, it keeps away ghosts. It is considered a "carnivorous" herb, and is used in purification baths. Burn for exorcisms.

Shamanic Magical Uses: This is the herb of Muspellheim, the burning land, and its power is aggressive defense. About a year before I discovered that Lacnunga and the Nine Herbs, a great stand of nettles grew up by my door. Some people got brushed by them, and complained; I was told that I should cut them all down, that they were a hazard. Others shrugged and said that they had walked right by them and were never bothered.

I went out with clippers, ready to hack them down, but I couldn't seem to do it. Something stayed my hand, giving me a strong feeling that I shouldn't touch them, so I gave up and went back inside. After a while I began to notice that the people who got "attacked" by the nettles were folks who later gave me trouble, or turned out only to want to use my resources and give back as little as possible. My old friends were never touched by them, nor were the members of my household.

Nettle is an aggressive defender, in the sense that it will not only absorb any harmful magic that is thrown at you or the space, it will strike back if you let it. Due to its difficult nature, it's nearly impossible to handle fresh in ritual, but dried or cooked nettle will lose its sting - physically, anyway. Nettle keeps its rabid-guard-dog energy when burned, or sprinkled dry around an area. You can drink it in tea in preparation for any kind of guardian duty. Sometimes Nettle's aggressive defensiveness will slip over into offensiveness, so it's not a bad herb to use before any duty where you're going to be armed and going into danger.

Because of its association with Muspellheim, Nettle likes being burned, but throwing it into a fire may make the fire burn longer and hotter, perhaps dangerously so. Take care that you have plenty of water around before infusing your little campfire with the power of the Fire World. On the other hand, it can be a symbolic substitute for fire in a place where you aren't allowed to actually light a flame.