Sunday, June 6, 2010

Stinging Nettles

I was walking along the Lower Chippewa River Bike Trail before the rains this afternoon when I noticed several bumblebees hanging on to the lilac-colored flowers of this Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), an alien plant in the mint family.

I edged closer with my new point and shoot Sony Cybershot Wx1.  I was cautious, concerned that this bee might take offense and sting me.   It was alive, but wasn't moving.

Then I got stung.

Not by the bee.   My hand brushed a nearby plant:  the common nettle.

It's also known as Stinging Nettles.

I've only been stung by this plant once before, but it was so long ago that I'd forgotten the feeling.
It was disconcerting - and it stayed with me all day.

How does it this plant produce a sting?  

The leaves and stems are covered with brittle, hollow, silky hairs that when touched, inject chemicals into the skin:   a histamine (irritates the skin), seratonin (causes pain), acetylcholine (creates the burning sensation) and, according to some sources, formic acid (responsible for the sting).

The resulting rash is similar to poison ivy.

What can you do?

Spit on it.  Seriously, saliva can help alleviate the stinging.  Then, when you get home, take two aspirin and apply hydrocortisone cream.

If you're more adventurous, take a look at this reference to the culinary attributes of stinging nettles.

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