Do you ever experience a horrible burning sensation when you’re out looking for frogs? Usually all over your legs and arms? I do … quite frequently come to think of it. Please don’t tell me I am on the only one!
Stinging nettles. Urtica dioica. A rather pretty looking weed actually … with it’s with heart-shaped leaves in a vibrant jewel-green color, as well as many tiny greenish flowers on the leaf axils (where the leaves join the stems). By the way, looks can be deceiving … but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
You will find them alongside roadways, in forests, by the edge of many waterways. You will find them in Europe. You will find them in North America. You will even find them in parts of Asia and Africa.
But not once have I found them with a big, bold warning sign and arrow pointing to them that says “WARNING! STINGING NETTLES! EXTREME DISCOMFORT WILL OCCUR IF YOU TOUCH THESE PLANTS!”
Nope. I tend to discover the location of Stinging nettles by accident. Regularly. On a nice, warm day. When I am walking around with shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt on. In Canada or in the Netherlands.
If there are nettles to be found, I WILL find them! Usually the hard way. And unfortunately I have multiple witnesses in multiple countries that can attest to this.
While I am out in the field (or even just for a casual walk), my eyes are constantly scanning the ground all around me while I am walking. It is not that I am stumbling around with my head up in the clouds or my eyes trained on the blue skies above. I’m always on the lookout for something … something that slithers, scurries or jumps.
In fact my face/neck is always angled towards the ground so much from spring to fall that I’m pretty sure I would horrify an occupational therapist with my posture! But I digress…
My eyes are not trained to be on the lookout for weeds covered with coarse, stinging hairs. I’m looking for what might be under those weeds. And I always have a camera of some kind with me – because, well … you just never know!
And whether you are by a ditch or a small stream, if something jumps under those weeds, I jump too … with excitement! I’m the sort of person whom no matter how many times I see a frog, I get just as excited as the first time I saw a frog when I was a kid.
I’m not jumping to grab the frog – they’re strictly hands off. I’m jumping to get that perfect photo or video footage that we can use and an animal that I can share with others that might not be able to see these species where they live.
And that’s when I spontaneously develop a case of tunnel vision. I see frog and that is it (although I should confess that I do a quick sweep to make sure there is nothing else in that area that would be worthy of following with my camera). My peripheral vision is all but gone.
Some frog species tend to be rather hoppy, such as the Green Frog (Rana clamitans) in North America, and the Edible Frog (Pelophylax klepton esculenta) throughout Europe, so usually you have to do a bit of tracking to keep up with it, down a path or along the water’s edge.
Finally, when the moment is right, I’ll drop down to the ground with camera in hand. Photo after photo … frame after frame … as long as the frog stays put, so shall I. And for a moment, I am completely unaware of the horror that I have unleashed by lying down in that particular spot.
The sudden, intense burning sensation kicks in … all over the fronts of your legs and hands. Your ankles and wrists start to feel like they are on fire.
You know immediately that when you look down, you will see a rapidly spreading redness across your skin. Next the blisters will start to form … and by then it’s too late to do anything. What’s done is done.
You’re lying down on your stomach right in a thick patch of Stinging nettles. And you wore your shorts because it was a balmy 20C that day and you really did not plan on going on a proper field expedition anyways. Some of us just can’t stop ourselves from looking when we’re out even just walking a dog or getting some fresh air.
You stand up. In a slight amount of pain. You’re slightly embarrassed and just want the burning to stop.
You get up to leave the area, red and blistered so you can go back and review your photos and footage. You vow to never ever let something like that happen again. You vow to always wear long pants and long sleeves if you have an overwhelming urge to find frogs … or even just go for a walk in a nature reserve. You vow to pay attention to the plants around you to make sure you don’t find yourself in the same predicament again.
Apparently frogs love living among the nettles. I have come to believe, based on ample experience (that I might not necessarily be proud of I might add) that where you find nettles, you shall find also frogs (assuming of course, there is some body of water nearby of course).
And some say that I too must love the nettles too since I find myself in the middle of nettle patches on a regular basis … literally!
So why do the frogs love to live and frolic among the nettles? Are they sadists and enjoy pain? I’m pretty sure that’s not the case and they are unaffected by the hairs of these plants. The plants do provide some great coverage and an ideal habitat for these amphibians. But one cannot help but picture them giggling to themselves as they hear us curse and swear.
Incidentally, many people swear by the health benefits of nettle tea. Apparently it works quite well in cleaning out the kidneys. I gave it a try … once. I do have to admit that the taste was wonderful. The effect it had on the kidneys and bladder on the other hand was horrifying – it worked far too well! Although I did learn in the strangest of ways, that there are several recipes for alcoholic nettle beers. Hmmmmmmmm.
My grandmother (who is German) even told me that the whipping of nettle plants on someone’s skin was supposed to help treat arthritis back “in the day.” Ouch! But then again, when my arthritis flares up in my knee I would be tempted to try just about any treatment someone suggests at that point!
Fortunately you do not have to suffer indefinitely if you’ve been stung by this plant. You do have several different treatment options available to you (albeit some are rather creative).
Some people swear by anti-itch creams and even calamine lotion. Often times, where you find nettles, you’ll also find a plant (such as Jewelweed for example) that can be used to treat the itching. You simply crush up the leaves and rub them on the affected area (in my case, I typically need A LOT of leaves).
And for the more adventurous among us, you can use saliva, baking soda, oil and onions, the topical use of milk of magnesia, lemon juice and even mud to calm the burning and itching sensations.
Or you do what I do: simply ignore the stinging sensation and just let it run its course. Eventually the discomfort subsides.
Anyways, do yourself a favor and pick up a field identification guide for plants and wildflowers in your area before you go out. And wear long pants if you think there’s a chance you need to drop down into the ground to see something before it hops and slithers away. You’ll thank me for it.
And I am sure that one day, I too will do the same … maybe…
Has it been worth the pain on more occasions than I care to admit to? Absolutely! Just check out some of these frogtastic finds within the nettles! Moor Frogs, Green Frogs, Edible Frogs … they’re all there … in the nettles!
And now if you excuse me, the sun is shining, the weather is warm, I have my shorts on … and the frogs are calling!