A tale in the sting.

There was an old custom, particularly in county Cork and one or two other places around Ireland that May Eve (April 30th) was celebrated as “Nettlemas Night”; nettles may be gathered for making soup and the children would play stinging games with a wand of nettles – stinging their friends and passers-by.

To that I would say in my best Dublin street trader call ‘Last of the dock leaves – five for fifty. Nifty for the sting’. But maybe you didn’t want the dock leaf to take away the sting with its antihistamine juice – maybe the sting was a good thing.

I’m not saying try this at home but there is a long folk use of deliberately sting oneself with nettles to switch on your anti-allergenic defence system – a sort of immunology against stronger histamine reactions at a later stage. The nettle sting has also been utilized as a counter irritant to musculoskeletal pain and in particular with rheumatism and arthritis. There’s even a name for it – urtification.

Ok, if you’re not up for the welts, there is always the nutritional therapy – another Irish tradition was/is the practice of taking 3 meals of nettles in May to guard against illness or any weakness occurring for the rest of the year.

simple as nettlemas soup


  • 1½ cups young nettle tops
  • 1 large potato
  • 1 small onion or some scallions
  • ½ cup cream
  • Water
  • Salt and pepper to season


Finely dice an onion and sauté until translucent. Peel, wash and quarter a large potato – and add to the pot; cover with water, bring to a boil then and simmer for 5-10minutes until potato pieces soften through. Prep the nettles – heat exposure disarms the sting, this can be a wilting in a hot pan or a rinse under some boiling water. Roughly chop nettles and add to pot with cooked onion – add a little extra water if required to cover, bring back to a boil and simmer for a further 3minutes to cook nettles through. Liquidize to smooth soup, season with salt and pepper. Fold in cream or drizzle a swirl on top. Serve up and enjoy.

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