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The Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

So there you are exploring the trails, minding your own business, when all of a sudden you feel an almost indescribable pain burning on your leg or arm. Feels kind of like a burning or maybe needles poking you, but quickly you identify the provider of this new found pain. You look around and find the culprit, the stinging nettle, Urtica dioica.

Stinging Nettle is common in the Idyllwild area and usually appear in the spring, starting in early march and sprouting up until fall. The leaves are about 10cm long, and have a jagged teethlike appearance. They have tiny hollow hairs on the main stem and on the leaves and on the veins of both sides of the leaves.

When you brush up against the nettle the tiny hollow hairs break off, penetrate your skin and release an acid which causes a very painful burn and also your skin will soon develop white itchy spots. The burning will last a while, but most effects are gone within 24 hours. You will notice that the palms of your hands did not get hit, this is because the palms of your hands contain thicker skin which the nettle is not able to penetrate completely for release of its acid. However, be careful, if you have the nettle on the palm of your hand and then go smack a mosquito on your cheek, you will soon feel the effects of the nettle on your face

OK, so what do I do? Well, the acid is a formic acid which can be neutralized by mixing it with a base. The most common way to do this is to use baking soda. It is a good idea to bring a little vial of baking soda in your pack. Apply it to your skin as soon as possible and it will soothe the area.

No baking soda, well, some people try the always popular and readily available: SPIT. This is not as effective as baking soda, but it sure beats doing nothing.

Keep an eye out for this plant, although baking soda minimizes the burn and spitting is always enjoyable to rub on your leg, it is best not to have the plants effects to begin with.

Here is an interesting tidbit of info. Homeopaths use stinging nettle to treat people with first and second degree burns. Of course, they do not rub this plant on their patients without first boiling it and properly preparing it, but the nettle plant has proven to be effective for this treatment. Since stinging nettle causes a burn when exposed to it in toxic dose, it also helps heal burns when taken in small non-toxic dose.

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