During An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger), a clause in the Irish Poor Law stipulated that anyone who owned more than a half-acre of land was not eligible for any aid or relief, forcing the starving famine victims to forage for edible plants, the most vital of which was the humble nettle. At the Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan’s Battery Park two miles of undulating walls that support the Memorial are lined with illuminated text of famine statistics and quotes, and patches of nettles can be found among the plantings of native Irish flora that surround a derelict stone cottage on the small hillock that recreates a plot of 19th century Irish farmland.
Our ancestors may have lacked the wheel, thermal underwear and television, but they were no pikers when it came to food. They ate just about anything. And therein lies the answer. Times were tough, and food was scarce. If it didn’t kill you, it went into the pot. And thankfully so, because nettles are one of the food world’s great tastes. Sláinte!