When my family and I lived on the banks of the Hunter River, in Aberdeen in NSW, we had bought this red kelpie and named him Jasper. Now Jasper was a carefree dog that loved to bound, roll and explores. Rabbit chasing was his favourite thing to do. We had a six-foot deer wire fence that was about five metres from the bank to keep our young children from heading towards the water, for they also liked to explore.
So on this day, I had a funeral to attend. My lovely tennis partner, who was a quiet young lad, had died in a car crash a few days prior. All the kids had been sent to their grandmother’s place in the morning. X-Husband was in the office and would meet me at the church at the time. The small community was coming together for this family that was an integral part of Aberdeen.
As I was cleaning up that morning, I had let the dogs off to do their business before coming back and being put back into their beds. As I was cleaning, I could hear this howling. On and on it went and so I went out to investigate. I found our smaller dog, Foxie, sunning herself on the veranda on that spring day. Jasper, however, was nowhere to be found. So I followed the howling and had to go beyond the fence and onto the river bank to see… he got himself stuck on a ledge on the river bank….full of nettles.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica Genus). Grows up to 1-2 metres tall. Leaves are coursely toothed, pointed at the end. Tiny hairs grow on the stem and underside of leaves and are hollow and hypodermic needle-like, that break off when touched, imbedding itself into the skin. This in turn injects formic acid, histamines and other chemicals into the skin to give the reaction.
I was too far away from the house now to go get long sleeves on, as the river was in flood and the dog was now no-stop howling.
So I walk down the bank with a feeble branch, that I used to make a path in the nettles. However, within a couple of steps, I slipped right on my derriere, sliding down, arms flailing down towards the water. In my unlady like decline, I am trying to grab anything on the ground to stop myself falling into the river. Including nettles bushes. But is it to no avail.
It is with great luck that I land directly onto the same small ledge where the dog is, pushing myself back into the dirt wall, trying to dig my hands into the harden soil so not to go into the river. My heart is pounding, I am shaking a little, thinking of what would have happened if I fell into that brown muck of water. No one would have known. No one would have thought to look in the river until it was too late. The water was churning and, a couple of days before, I had seen a milking cow swept away in the turmoil of the river. That was very distressing.
It was no more than a few seconds of landing on that bank when Jasper, all 18 kilograms of him, jumps up into my chest. Jasper is not there to be mollycoddled by me…Jasper does not want me to hold him and say it will be ok…Jasper is there to use me as a human ladder. And he does.
Onto the bank he bounds, tail wagging, happy, looking at me with those brown eyes of his and gives me this look of “shit, that was close” … and then the wee bastard runs off. I scream out to him, whistled, call him in a gentle way, trying to coax him. But Jasper doesn’t even look back at me. Bloody ungrateful dog! Now I am stuck on the ledge. I think I had it in my mind that my dog would be so grateful and help me, drag me out. I’d seen too many Lassie movies.
Trying to dig footholds into the bank in the room I had, I attempted to break roots or anything to make a footing. Then I notice the itching and burning sensation up my arms and looking saw welts were everywhere. God! Nettle stings!
Near the tree on the bank, and in reach, there was one dock plant growing and somewhere deep in my memory, I knew you had to rub that shit on. On tip-toes, I reached up for it and crushed it and rubbed it along my arms and on the inside. It helped for a time because, after thirty-five minutes of trying to get off that ledge, I had had enough.
Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) dock leaves might contain natural antihistamines that reduce the irritation, but nothing scientifically has been found to suggest this is true. Whatever the reason, Dock does soothe the Stinging Nettles.
Looking up over the ledge, all I saw before me was a sea of nettles. Yet sticking up slightly out of that green was an old tree root a little way off. It was my only hope.
With all my force I jumped up and out for it…and missed. I missed another twenty or so times until finally, I had that little bastard in my hand.
With all my heart and energy, I dragged myself up and through that sea of nettles. I had it over my chin, neck, down my shirt, my arms, and it was hell on earth. I laid on that bank, my body aching and heart still pounding, thinking if that dog got stuck there again, I would leave him…but I knew I wouldn’t.
Slowly I raised myself up, grabbed as many dock leaves, which wasn’t many, I got up to the house like a rodeo rider having been bucked off a brumby.
Having to pull my finger out and get ready for the funeral, I rubbed the dock sparingly over me where I could. The stinging was insane but had to get going or be late, so I dressed and put a brush through my hair and was out the door.
Imagine that over your chin, neck, arms chest, ankles and how good I felt going to the church that day. I looked a real treat!
When I got to the church, people looked at me with this look of surprise and yet just smiled at me. My x-husband is there already and looks at me with this pissed look. He storms over to me, grabbing me by the arm and hisses at me had I been drinking! Me drinking? I said WTF, NO, I had not been drinking. He told me I looked a bloody mess. Sarcastically I thanked him for his words, then relayed the story of the dog, the nettles and stuck for near an hour on the river. Well, he busted out laughing and then goes over to his mates, tells them, who then mill around looking at me, poking fun, laughing.
“Should of let the dog die” was said continuously. I just ignored the lot of them.
In the church, it was near impossible not to scratch and listen to my young friends farewell. I felt so bad but halfway through the service, I snuck the dock out of my purse and started rubbing it on my arms as discreetly as I could. It started a whole bunch of sniggering by the lads who were in the know. Eventually, I had to walk out the church and take what dock I had and just rub, and I mean rub. I was a bloody mess. I didn’t stay long after that. I gave my condolences and left it at that.
Popping into my In-laws to pick up the kids, they even had a laugh at my exploits. After a cuppa and then with the kids in tow, we went home, where I went looking for more dock. Sitting in my kitchen, the kids helped me rub the herb over my worse spots, laughing seeing the green tinge colouring on my skin. But they made me feel better with their tenderness and their young words of helping me get better. That night was a bit of a bad night of sleep, but eventually, I fell into a deep sleep, and by morning, most of it had gone away.
My friend in Northern Ireland now makes Nettle Tea from the abundance of nettles growing in her yard. Noreen’s Nettle Tea from Aghalee. Every time I look at the plants she has grown, it brings about a little shiver of that day. Yet I have more respect for the Nettles now, after being educated by Noreen by the great benefits of the plant.
Nettles contain formic acid in fresh plant, galacturonic acid (sugar acid, an oxidized form of d-galactose. It is the main component of pectin), Vitamin C, iron, sodium, choline and acetylcholine (organic chemical that functions in the brain and body of many types of animals as a neurotransmitter), histamine, 5-hydroxytryptamine (Serotonin), vitamins A and D, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, silica, trace minerals and protein. A Super Food for sure!
But stinging nettles, no matter how irritating, really doesn’t compare to the day I stood on a green ants nest in bare feet …
Buts that another story for another day.