Half a Hundred Herbs – Week 13 Nettle

nettleAs the dandelions haven’t obliged, we move on to the nettle. Of course these little beauties have grown bigger since this photo was taken, but they are just coming into their own. Malevolent as they might seem – and I have known them sting through heavy duty leather gardening gloves –  I am doing more than tolerate my nettles, which grow around the base of our rowan tree. They make good host plants for butterflies – especially red admirals, small tortoiseshells and peacock butterflies. In fact some conservation groups recommend growing nettles on purpose for this very reason. I wouldn’t go that far, but —

Medicinally I value them for their anti-histamine action, as I find that nettle tea really helps my hay-fever. But their big function in my garden this year is going to be as a nettle tea for my plants. As nettles have long roots, they are very good at bringing up helpful minerals from the soil, and if you soak the leaves in water for a month, these minerals will leach out. The resulting brew is very smelly, but it is rich in nitrogen, iron, sulphur and magnesium. And you can put the debris on the compost heap where it makes a good activator.

Nettles often grow in ground that was previously under cultivation. Mature planting will eventually out-compete them, but if you dig over a bed, or leave land fallow, the seed will germinate., which is why you find them around abandoned villages. They like deep rich soil, so it’s an encouraging sign if they have wandered onto your plot!

I have been sowing seeds today, as the rain just wouldn’t stop for long enough to work outside. I’ve sowed basil, sweet marjoram and parsley, but also hyssop, so as to get a good mix of colours, white horehound, for its pretty hairy leaves which look as if they are glistening with frost, martagon lilies, myrtle and angelica. These last are a bit of an adventure. Martagon lilies will take at least three years to show, and have to be kept moist the whole time. Jekka McVicar doesn’t recommend growing myrtle from seeds at all, and though I did have some success once, the plants were killed off by cold wnters. And angelica sounds extremely temperamental. The seed has only a short life, and if you leave it as late as I have you have to give it a long period of cold. The pot is sitting in the bottom of the fridge, and I only hope that no-one upsets it for the next month. Fingers crossed!daffandprimrose

I’ve also potted on some hearts-ease seedlings, and divided my tarragon plant, getting about four good-sized divisions, and a couple of basal cuttings from it. Do not believe what anyone may tell you about herbs being too aromatic to appeal to slugs! This poor plant has been chewed to rags, and not only were there slugs on the pot, they’d laid eggs, which I removed in short order. I just hope that all my new plants will be invigorated rather than traumatised by the process, because I’m looking forward to some well-flavoured tarragon vinegar in a couple of months.

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