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
- 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.