Nettles grow commonly throughout Cuzco with its temperate climate and a fair amount of warmth. You do not have to touch them and let them sting you to recognize them. You only have to look for their finely serrated leaves. They are generally weedy looking plants and are generally under a meter tall.
This plant is well known around the world, although for a characteristic that is not very pleasant. When it comes into contact with skin it stings sharply. The many tiny hairs that cover the entire plant carry a substance that irritates painfully with even the lightest contact.
Its leaves are perennial and of a dark green color. They grow opposed to each other. The peculiar little hairs are very fragile. When they are broken they let loose a liquid that can burn for just a little while or can persist for days. This irritation and the bother it produces is known as urticaria which gives a name to all the different kinds of plants which produce this burning effect and a resulting rash called hives.
Children often come into contact with this plant as do gardeners. When I was a child I liked to play with stinging nettles along with my friends. We called the game “He who scratches loses”. We had to put up with the burn when our skin brushed against the fine hairs of the nettle plant. Of course we did not touch our faces to the plant, only our hands.
My mother would tell me that this plant has lots of medicinal properties. When I was a child I did not understand much of that and just like to have fun with my friends.
Nettles are used popularly to treat rheumatism and a paralysis of the extremities. People rub the plant over the affected area. Then they wash themselves with cold running water.
They are also used to stop hair loss. Here they take fifteen grams of powdered nettles and 50 grams of avocado oil. The two products are mixed and are placed in a steam bath for fifteen minutes. With this mixture people then massage the scalp.
By boiling stinging nettles for several hours they become and excelent unguent to help close wounds.
In addition, from nettles people make a natural dye for local textiles. They produce a long lasting, dark green color which is the typical color of the plant.
People who really know the secrets of the different herbs help others aroudn them with their knowledge. They give them advice and tell them how the herbs can help them and how to use them. In this way the knowledge passes from one person to another. The knowledge becomes an important part of the culture of Cuzco