Čhaŋíčaȟpehu / Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles. Čhaŋíčaȟpehu. Urtica dioica. Many of us have only unpleasant associations with this plant: the sting. It is seen as a plant to be avoided, and carefully uprooted where possible.

Here on Standing Rock, though, a growing number of people are intentionally inflicting themselves with nettle stings. This may sound surprising when you first hear about it, but this is not a trend akin to eating laundry pods. Stinging oneself with nettles is a case where short-term pain leads to long-term gain. Nettle stings alleviate arthritis and other kinds of joint pain.

I know of one local guitarist, a former professional musician who had lost his ability to play due to wrist pain — but after a few months of daily nettle treatments, he had regained the use of his hands and his ability to play guitar.

This time of year on Standing Rock, the ground is largely still covered by a coat of snow and ice, but tiny little nettles are beginning to poke their heads up out of the ground. Despite their delicate appearance, with leaves smaller than a fingernail, they are extra sting-y this time of year. They are a strong medicine, and the stingers seem much more powerful now to me than they are when the plant is bigger and older.

As an experiment, I used one of these tiny nettle heads on my left wrist. I had been having issues with both wrists. The immediate results were visually dramatic, though not actually painful:

Within an hour, it had gone down significantly:

I forgot to take a picture later that day, and I also forgot to look in the evening — but by the next day (if not sooner), the marks were entirely gone. And so, in fact, was the pain I’d had in that wrist. That was Thursday, and it’s Saturday evening now, and the pain is still gone from that area.

I took plenty of pictures of the catmint growing nearby, which I thought was the nettles because I wasn’t looking closely enough. This is the only photo I got of the baby nettle plant (looking beat up, because I took the picture after I stung myself with it a zillion times):

I want to note that there are different kinds of nettles — Wood nettle, or Laportea canadensis, does not have pain-relieving qualities, and in my experience you can still feel the spot where you were stung for days. (In contrast, the sting from čhaŋíčaȟpehu/Urtica dioica lasts only a few minutes.)

This plant also has many other medicinal uses, and the leaves are also delicious sautéed with butter and salt when they’re bigger, but that’s another topic for another day.

Since there aren’t nettles growing where I live, I wanted to gather seeds. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying close enough attention, and I gathered catmint seeds instead. But I think that if more people knew about the benefits of stinging nettles, we’d be planting them by our homes instead of digging them up!

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