(Roughly) Daily

“My mom made two dishes: Take it or Leave it”*…

 

In the course of an hour on the Saturday before the summer solstice, contestants in Dorset’s annual World Nettle Eating Championship cram as many feet of stinging nettles down their throats as they can…

The notion of ingesting nettles in some form isn’t odd, given the ubiquity and touted health benefits of teas, infusions, and even beers made from the weed. But eating the plant straight is another matter. Spiny stalks aside, each nettle leaf is tipped with thousands of microscopic hairs that, when brushed, detach as needles and inject a cocktail of irritating chemicals into whatever flesh tries to disturb them. The tongue and throat are abraded. The mouth turns black. And sometimes the nettles start to ferment in the gut with an audible gargling noise…

The competition takes place every year just before the summer solstice, the keystone event of a larger beer festival at the thatched-roofed, 500-plus-year-old Bottle Inn pub. On Saturday evening, comers and takers from all over the world (and an attendant crush of local, national, and international spectators and media) pay a varied pittance of a fee to consume 20-inch segments of nettle stalks and leaves. They have one hour to strip from the stalk as many stinging leaves as they can eat. No nettles from home, no bathroom breaks, no numbing agents. Only swigs of beer (or sometimes water) are allowed to lubricate the process. The prize is a small trophy and, usually, £100 ($166)…

A stinging nettle- Urtica dioica– is basically just a green pole with thousands of tiny knives attached to it.

For the contestants, coming back is a matter of skill and pride, of honing one little corner of personal greatness. But as for the audience and press, they’re no longer coming or covering the event because of the novelty. In fact, nettle eating wasn’t that novel to begin with when you look at some of southern England’s other traditions. Up the road in Gloucestershire, they have an onion-eating competition in Newent, and a cheese-rolling competition on Cooper’s Hill. To the northeast, in Whittlesey, Peterborough, men dress up as animate straw monstrosities and galumph about. And just down the road to the southwest, in Ottery St. Mary, East Devon, folks race through the night hoisting flaming wooden barrels of tar over their heads

Learn more at “English Idiots Hold Annual Stinging-Nettle Eating Contest.”

* Stephen Wright

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As we reach for the Zantac, we might recall that it was on this date in 1819 that Dr. John Bostock delivered a paper to the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society meeting in London with the first clinical description of an allergy (what was later classified “allergic rhinitus”). Bostock’s paper, published in the society’s Transactions, was titled “A Case of the Periodical Affectation of the Eyes and Chest.”  It was, in fact, a description of his personal sufferings during hay season– hence the vernacular name “hay fever.”

Pollen grains from a variety of common plants– including stinging nettle– can cause hay fever. Enlarged 500×,

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Dr. John Bostock

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

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