"...many may agree that it would be better to return from a trip to the country with a bag of nettles than with bunches of wild flowers." ~Audry Wynne Hatfield
It's entirely possible, and in fact, not too difficult to handle- and even eat- raw, stinging nettle without getting stung, giving meaning to the phrase "grasp the nettle."
And since it's nettle season again, I'm enjoying seeking out patches and nibbling on the fresh, raw leaves and picking more with bare hands to take home.
"Pinch the top shoot on a young nettle, roll into a tight ball and eat- delicious. This, incidentally, is the technique used in the world nettle-eating championship, held annually in Dorset..." ~Hedgerow Medicine, Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal
However, if you want to try the ancient practice of urtication, you have to get stung on purpose, which sometimes, but not always, will bring out an urticarial rash and leaves the area tingly for hours.
Why would anyone do this?
According to Mrs. Grieve, "'Urtication,' or flogging with Nettles, was an old remedy for chronic rheumatism and loss of muscular power."
Matthew Wood writes that, "In the old days, the part paralyzed, arthritic or gouty was whipped with the fresh-picked nettle. I find it effective when the part that has been paralyzed or depressed in function since the use of anesthesia." ~The Earthwise Herbal- A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants
Susun Weed tells us that "nettles have a long history as a treatment for rheumaticism and muscle/nerve pain like sciatica and lumbago. U. pilulifera--the smaller and more venomous Roman nettle--was cultivated and used by the Romans. The Romans are credited with bringing seeds of this plant with them into Britain; by flogging themselves with the plants, they reportedly kept warm in the colder northern climate. Like the Romany, the Romans employed nettles in the following manner: bunches of fresh nettles were tied together, and the afflicted area of the body was thrashed repeatedly to create heat in the limbs and to stimulate blood circulation." Source
I've been experiencing some arthritic like pains and waking up with numbness in my hands and wrists recently, so I'm giving urtication a try.
Flogging and raw leaf eating not your thing? That's ok. Cooked or dried, nettle is a superior food and medicinal plant.
Oh, and if you happen to get stung by accident, the leaves of plantain and curly dock are the antidote. Crush the leaves of either one and rub the juice onto the area affected.