I find Nettle cordage making incredibly therapeutic. Once you’ve figured out the ‘braiding’ technique and gathered your nettles it is easy to make tens of meters whilst chatting around the campfire in the evening or watching TV.
Nettles and their uses.
The Latin name is Urtica dioica, Urtica coming from the latin verb urere, meaning to burn and dioica meaning two houses because the plant usually contains either female or male flowers. As well as being good for cordage, nettles really are incredible plants, worth a second thought before tearing out of the garden or spraying with weed killer. Not only is the nettle an incredibly good source of nutrients as a food for example in a soup, it also has medicinal properties that have been used for centuries. It is a diuretic and has been used to treat allergies such as hay fever as it contains biologically active compounds which reduce inflammation. There are currently studies being done into how nettles could be used in the treatment of Alzheimers, arthritis and various respiratory conditions and much more. If any plant deserves the name super plant, this is it!
Nettle cordage uses.
Nettle has also been used for hundreds of years for cloth and for cordage, archaeological remains across Europe have shown that our ancestors regularly used nettle fibres for making shoes, clothing and accessories. Post medieval remains have shown drag nets made from nettle for fishing.
What are you looking for in a nettle for cordage?
The best nettles are the tall, woody ones that you find later in the season. They can grow over a meter in height and these are perfect as they have a brittle core which is easy to separate from the outer bark, the part you will be using. The bark of the fresh, young nettles is normally too well stuck to the inner core and too short to make very usable or strong cordage.
Where do you find nettles?
Nettles are hardy plants favouring rich soils it is often found around human settlements in wastelands or cleared areas. It can also be found in forested areas along the sides of tracks.
How to make gathering nettles a pain free experience.
The nettle is famous for its sting which comes from the fine hair like structures found on the stem and the underside of the leaves. The hairs are very fine hollow tubes made of silica. A bulb at the base of the hair contains a concoction of formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine and serotonin. When brushd against the skin the tips of the hair break piercing the skin and delivers the sting. This often puts people off wanting to gather them. If you are worried about being stung then bring along a pair of gardening gloves and work from the outside of the patch of nettles in.
1).Use a knife to chop your nettles close to the ground, gathering a bunch of long stems.
2). Once you have gathered your nettles you will need to remove the leaves. The best wayto do this is to hold the stem of the nettle at the bottom where you cut it and going with the grain of the nettle, so away from you, using your hand to run down the nettle. As you run your hand along the nettle, the leaves should, with a little force come off. Clean off the stem of any leaves or leaf stems that were left after your leaf removal.
3). Take the cleaned stems and place onto a hard surface. With a stick or the handle of your knife tap gently along the stem. This makes the separating of the core from the outer bark much easier. This needs to be done before the nettles dry as the lubrication between the inner and outer will aid in this process.
4). Open up the nettle along one of the fracture lines and bend the nettle snapping the inner core. With your fingers pull the inner off the outer bark ensuring you’ve removed all of this harder inner.
5). Collect up your nettle outer barks and hang to dry. I prefer to air dry the nettles over hanging them over a fire or heat source as I have found that drying them too fast causes them to become brittle. The reason you dry the nettles before braiding is that if you braid them when they are still moist, as they dry the braids become less tight and separated and the cordage becomes weaker. Waiting till they’re dry ensures you are making very strong cordage.
6). Once your nettles are dry they are ready to be braided into cordage. I personally like to make mine quite fine and then rebraid the cordage back on itself as I find this makes it super strong but if you want a thicker cordage from the start then use thicker pieces of the outer bark.
You will need a bowl of water to wet your fingers as I find it easier to twist the cordage if its very slightly damp otherwise it’s quite hard to twist.
Wetting your finger and taking a strand of outer bark bend the stem over about a third of the way down. The reason you don’t bend it in half is that when you come to add the next strand you don’t want both ends to be added at the same time or it will make you cordage weak in those spots.
As you bend the cordage twist one strand the cordage by rolling it away from you with your thumb and fore finger. This will create a small loop at the top of your cordage.
7). Roll the bark away from you between your thumb and fore finger and then twist the rolled bark away from you towards the other strand. Grab the other strand with your middle and ring finger whilst letting go of the first strand and pull the new strand back towards you. Your hand is making a rocking motion back and forth. With the strand you’ve pulled back, copy the same process as before rolling and twisting away from you to grab the first strand again and repeating the process over and over. I pin the top end of the braided cordage with my other hand so it doesn’t twist.
8). When you run out of cordage on one strand add your next strand overlapping the new and the old by a couple of centimetres and carrying on the rolling and twisting. When your cordage is finished you can either chop or burn the overlapping sections off with a lighter.
9). When i am happy with the length of my cordage I tie n overhand knot at the end to stop it unravelling.
For extended use and for extra waterproofing when fishing I coat the cordage in beeswax.