Nettles are awesome plants; no only do they provide us with the materials to make stinging nettle cordage, they’re also edible and have medicinal properties.
Cordage is essential when you are spending any amount of time in the outdoors; learning how to make your own cordage is therefore an important bushcraft skill. Recently I wrote about preparing sweet chestnut and this time I’m going to show you how to prepare stinging nettles for cordage. Nettles make excellent cordage, really strong and durable.
There seems to me to be an optimum time for collecting the plants for making stinging nettle cordage. The younger they are the easier it is to separate the outer ‘skin’ from the inner pith, but they tend to be shorter so you need more joins in your cordage. If you leave it later in the year, the nettles are taller, meaning less joins, but the more difficult it can be separating the inner and outer. I find that June, July and August are good months for making stinging nettle cordage, when the nettles are still young enough to make it easy to separate the inner from the outer, and are nice and tall. With that said, I’ve harvested nettles into early October and used them, it’s just a bit trickier.
The first step in making stinging nettle cordage is to collect the nettles. I usually go for ones with a purple hue in the stem, they seem to make better cordage. The old saying of ‘grasp the nettle’ springs to mind – hold the nettle at the base and snap it off taking care to leave the roots in the ground.
Once you’ve picked a bunch of the nettles it’s time for the next stage. I hold the bottom of the nettle in my left hand and then close my right hand around the stem just in front of my left hand. Move both arms at the same time off to your sides. As the stings all point towards the top of the nettle you shouldn’t get stung (too much).
Then pick off any remaining leaves.
Next you want to give the nodes (the bits where the leaves were growing from) a gentle tap.
Starting at the bottom of the stem run your thumb nails down so that you split the stem down the middle.
Bend the whole thing over a couple of centimetres down from the bottom end, this makes it easier to separate the inner form the outer.
Peel the outer skin away and discard the inner, woody pith.
You should notice that the ‘skin’ has 4 sections running length ways; split it into 2 pieces containing 2 sections.
Now you need to hang your nettles so that they dry out. If you try to make them into cordage whilst they are still wet they’ll unravel.
Once the fibres are prepared you’re reday for the next stage in making your stinging nettle cordage. Look at this post to see how to turn your prepared fibres into a simple 2-ply cord.
We make stinging nettle cordage on many of our courses, including the IOL Bushcraft Competency Certificate course, our 5 Day Bushcraft Course, and of course on our Cordage & Containers day. You can see plenty of photos from all of these courses on our Facebook page.