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Stinging Nettles & Dock Leaves

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53140.  Sun Feb 19, 2006 1:09 pm Reply with quote

Not sure how much mileage there is in this, but when I were a lad I was advised to rub dock leaves onto the sting, and that wherever there were nettles there would be docks nearby. Does everybody 'know' this? And, if so, is it true? Why?

In case this does goes somewhere, here's an assertion I've found but not yet confirmed:

During WW1 (and just before and after) nettles were used as an alternative to cotton (which was in short supply). Soldiers uniforms were made from the fibres of nettle plants (mainly from Urtica Dioica and Urtica Urens, both are the common variety found freely growing wild).

Which is fairly comical, I suppose.

53232.  Sun Feb 19, 2006 4:58 pm Reply with quote

The explanation that I've heard (that says it's false) relies upon the fact that when you rub the place where you've been stung, you're increasing the local temperature and blood flow, both of which contribute to the lessening of the itching.

Contrast this with the 'gate theory' of pain control, which relies on the idea that for any part of the body, the amount of pain that can be signalled to the brain is limited to the number of nerves that lead to the spine. If, therefore, you rub the pained area a lot, the sensory impulses from the rubbing 'replace' some of the pain impulses from the injury itself, making it seem less painful.

This last is the basis of TENS machines.

I don't know anything about the phytochemicals in nettles or dock leaves, but these alternative explanations seem ot be simpler. Anyone else tried any other plant instead of dock?

53331.  Mon Feb 20, 2006 5:42 am Reply with quote

I've found it works with any leaf that is big and cool and moist and reasonably tough - but fragile enough to give out juice when rubbed. In a pinch, I daresay a flannel would do. When I was a toddler I rode my tricycle into a patch of stingers which was taller than I was, and stumbled around in it blindly trying to find my way out. Nothing helped with that, and I was in severe pain for what seemed like hours.

Whether younger people would have heard of nettle/dock leaf, I don't know; do people today get much opportunity of being stung by nettles? Are there tricycles still for tea?

I think nettle "cotton" is quite commonly used. Or was, perhaps. The nettle is generally a pretty useful plant altogether, and every garden should have a small patch. If only for the toddlers.

62167.  Mon Mar 27, 2006 7:23 pm Reply with quote

Sorry, Flash, to bring up the German uniforms thing today. I'd either not seen this or more probably forgotten it.

You must think I'm a nana.

62188.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 4:51 am Reply with quote

The nettles/cotton business fits quite nicely with the (unused?) conkers/shells bit at post 21814

62192.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 5:07 am Reply with quote

... which said this:
Conkers were used to make acetone, for use in cordite production for shells.

Extra notes: During WW1, 248 millions shells were fired by the British. The propellant was cordite, and the solvent used in making cordite was acetone. Acetone, in turn, was made mainly from distilled wood. As timber became short in wartime, it was discovered that potatoes and maize could be used to produce acetone. But by 1917, the submarine war had led to a shortage of maize, as well.

Searching for an alternative to the alternative to unobtainable timber, scientists found that horse chestnuts would do. The Ministry of Munitions therefore began a campaign to collect that autumn’s conker harvest. Schoolchildren were given days off from school to gather the conkers which, the government helpfully explained, were to be used “for the production of an article of great importance in the prosecution of the War” and for “certain purposes.” The secrecy was necessary, since the Germans could have used the same technique if they’d known about it. (Children also collected acorns, on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, for pig fodder.)

Horse chestnuts in great numbers were gathered, but the scheme was not successful. Letters to The Times complained of piles of rotting conkers being left at railway stations; very few actually reached the munitions factory, and the conkers turned out to be pretty poor stuff for the purpose, anyway.

(All above from the Imperial War Museum, at

62193.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 5:09 am Reply with quote

Mat, do we know what the story is about the domestic fence being taken away to be turned into armaments?

62208.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 6:15 am Reply with quote

You mean like railings being melted down to build Spitfires? Not definitively, no; depends who you read. Some say it was for real; some say it was for real but misguided; some say it was just a morale-boosting gimmick - “You too can do your bit.”

62211.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 6:40 am Reply with quote

Yes, that's what I meant. Might be an interesting one to look into.

62218.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 7:06 am Reply with quote

Straight Dope has this about the US situation:

In 1942, when the first scrap drives were organized, the war was far from won, and frightened civilians at all levels were anxious to do something, anything, to help. So campaigns were organized to collect not just metal and rubber but kitchen fat, newspapers, rags, and so on. These drives were extremely successful--millions of tons of material were collected. It was only afterward, contemplating the assembled mounds of junk, that those in charge of the war effort asked themselves: What are we going to do with all this crap?

World War II shortages weren't just home-front propaganda. Japanese conquests in Malaya and the Dutch East Indies cut off access to natural rubber supplies. President Roosevelt urged Americans to turn in "old tires, old rubber raincoats, old garden hose, rubber shoes, bathing caps, gloves," and so on at their local service stations. Just one problem: there wasn't (and still isn't) an efficient way of recycling rubber products. Rubber's complex chemistry and the variety of formulations in use made recycling slow and expensive and the resultant material inferior to virgin rubber. Although the rubber recycling industry did produce a fair amount of material throughout the war, the rubber scrap drive didn't significantly boost its output. The real solution to the rubber shortage was development of synthetic rubber and conservation--gas rationing was primarily meant to save tires, not gas.

Many of the other materials collected couldn't readily be recycled either. Many who lived through the war remember collecting old newspapers, but apart from using them as packing material and such there was little to be done with them. A 1941 aluminum-scrap drive to help the plucky Brits pulled in 70,000 tons of aluminum pots and pans, but only virgin aluminum could be used to manufacture aircraft.

Iron and steel were a different story. These metals could be easily melted down and used for munitions. It's not as if the U.S. lacked domestic sources of iron ore, though. The real challenge was gearing up American industry for war production. That meant everything from increasing steel-making capacity to building more factories and designing better weapons. Recycling of steel and iron unquestionably helped. One campaign netted five million tons of steel in just three weeks, and scrap-metal drives continued for most of the war.

Useful though recycled steel and iron were, some scrap drives went overboard. In addition to old streetcar tracks, wrought iron fences, church bells, and the like, people carted off relics of previous wars, including cannons, park statues, and other memorials. When the memorials were being rebuilt after the war, many wished they hadn't been so hasty.

There's no denying scrap drives and other World War II home-defense efforts were meant in part as morale builders. Some seem pretty loopy in retrospect--air-raid blackouts in Nebraska, for example. But a few were surprisingly effective. In 1943 victory gardens produced 40 percent of the country's fresh vegetables. Salvaged kitchen fat was used to produce glycerin, an ingredient in drugs and explosives. Then there's the Civil Air Patrol, organized in 1941 to watch the coasts and assist in search and rescue operations. Less help than hindrance, right? Not so. In the 18 months before the navy took over patrol duty, the CAP spotted 173 U-boats, located 363 survivors of sunken ships and downed aircraft, and reported 91 ships in distress. Lest you think all home-front volunteers were paunchy air-raid wardens in tin hats.

63662.  Tue Apr 04, 2006 9:22 am Reply with quote

Link between Nettles and Death:

A bit sick, but nettles grow much higher above sites where bodies are buried - this fact was used to find victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

The graves are becoming increasingly hard to find, he says, but the process is helped by his revolutionary new system.

His team begins by examining satellite pictures for signs of unusual vegetation - nettles grow a foot higher over bodies.

They then carry out a geophysical survey, passing electrical currents through the ground, to build up an exact picture of the grave before exhuming.

64270.  Fri Apr 07, 2006 10:59 am Reply with quote

Plants used in WW2, see also post 64268

Laughing Feet
206871.  Tue Sep 04, 2007 9:49 pm Reply with quote

The spritual belief is that: for every disease the cure is close nearby.

Dock leaves do work - I've done that dozens of times - and they always seem to grow beside nettles. I wonde how many other cures we are overlooking? Maybe there are some Wiccans or Picts out there who could advise?

Jim Phelps
222230.  Sun Oct 21, 2007 4:36 am Reply with quote

Laughing Feet wrote:
Dock leaves do work - I've done that dozens of times
Well, in the words of the song, 'ain't necessarily so'. You haven't tested the hypothesis. For all you know, any leaf or any rubbing action might work. Or, any leaf that you had been told worked, might work. And you might find that doing nothing much except just waiting for the unpleasant sensation to subside might take no longer than it does with the dock leaves ritual.

If you really want to check if there is anything specifically efficacious about dock leaves, you'd need to conduct a blind trial where some stings were treated with dock leaves, and others with leaves that you were told were dock leaves, without you knowing which is which, and see if it made any difference. Not the sort of research that's easy or important to do on an amateur basis (it would involve yourself and/or others getting stings purely for research) and not the sort of thing I can imagine the professionals wasting their time on. But... you know... just saying.

222232.  Sun Oct 21, 2007 5:09 am Reply with quote

I had the misfortune to run through a large patch of stinging nettles during the Great Dockleaf Shortage of 2005.

I was in pain for hours!


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