When a patch of nettles is left to flourish butterflies and moths can safely lay their eggs amongst the stingers, allowing summer life in the garden to blossom. The humble Urtica dioica has many uses – fantastic fertiliser for the garden, nutritious soup for the family, vitamin rich tea and an opportunity for some natural crafting. In summer when the nettles are long and the butterflies have already flown, choose the longest stems to cut for cord, leaving plenty for next year’s caterpillars.
Harvesting nettle bark
Wear gloves to protect your hands from the stings, pulling off all the leaves in one motion down the stem. Keep the leaves in a bucket to make garden feed later. The stings will have been removed with the leaves but use your gloves to wipe over the stems to be sure. For cord you need the ‘bark’ of the stem. To remove the bark, split the stem down the middle with a knife (or a strong fingernail), breaking the stem open. Peel the inside of the stem away from the outside, trying to keep the outside bark in strips as long as possible. (Any inside stem, or pith, is not needed and can be added to your bucket and covered with water to soak for a liquid fertiliser.)
Twisting or plaiting into cord
If the harvested bark has dried out, dip it in water to rehydrate. Strands can be plaited together to create a strong length of cord. Or for a thinner, longer length, twist the cord by holding the end of one long strip of bark and twisting the cord between thumb and forefingers. Some cord makers prefer to lay the bark on their leg and twist by pressing down and pushing the bark away. Allow the bark to twist into its own curves, making a strong doubled cord. Overlap the next piece with one side of the twisting cord by a few centimetres to allow the cord to be made longer. The cord is strong for garden jobs or more crafting projects.