The Defence of a Stinging Nettle

So during our final trip to the woods (AT NIGHT TIME ?!?!), Duncan asked us to put on a glove and pick some nettles so that we could make nettle soup. I feel that I should add at this time that I didn’t realise nettle soup was an actually thing. After all why on earth would anyone ever willingly eat something that’s just going to sting them? It turns out however that nettle soup does not sting you, but why s it then that stinging nettles do?

 

stining nettle 1 .png

Stinging nettles sting due to a way they have evolved for the best survival. They have developed stinging cells as adaptation to deter herbivores from eating them. Stinging nettles stems and underside of the leaves are covered in long, thin hollow hairs (called Trichomes) containing formic acid, which is what causes the sting.

stining nettle 2

When you brush against the Trichomes you break off the fragile silica tips of the hairs which are essentially made of glass and therefor act as a sharp needle. This sharp needle pierces the skin causing the nettles venom to be injected.

 

Originally the primary source of pain from a stinging nettle sting was thought to be formic acid how ether it is of a too low concentration. Therefor what causes the inflammation and pain from a stinging nettle sting is actually the histamine, acetylcholine and serotonin.

stinging nettle 3 .png

The reason that nettle soup does not sting is because by boiling the nettles you are destroying the venom. Nettles actually very good for you as they are a rich source of vitamin C and contain more iron than spinach! I however can’t say that the health benefits of nettle soup overweigh the foul taste, but this is just my opinion and I’m a second year primary ed student, not a food critic!

 

References:

http://www.compoundchem.com/2015/06/04/nettles/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Stinging_nettle

http://www.saps.org.uk/secondary/teaching-resources/869-investigating-leaf-adaptations-why-do-nettles-sting

 

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