|Traditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)|
Embu: hatha English: stinging nettle Keiyo: siwot Kikuyu: thabai (Kiambu), hatha (Nyeri) Kipsigis: siwot Maa: entamejoi, entameijoi, intameijo (plural) Marakwet: kimeley Mbeere: mucururi Meru: thaa, thatha Pokot: meleyi Tugen: siwon
Description: An erect perennial herb up to 2 m high covered all over with stinging hairs about 2 mm long. Stems are angled, arising from a rhizome creeping below the soil surface. LEAVES: Large, opposite, heart-shaped with a serrated margin and a pointed tip. FLOWERS: Dioecious, small and green, borne in long spike-like inflorescences arising from the leaf axils. FRUITS: Small, green and flattened. FRUITS: Seeds compressed, resembling those of tomato.
Ecology: East Africa, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire). Found in most of Kenya's highlands in humid and semi-humid forest clearings, forest edges, stream banks and glades as well as moist bushland, 1,500-3,250 m. It is also common near human dwellings, especially in cattle enclosures and cleared areas near gardens. Prefers deep red clay, especially loose soils with plenty of organic matter. Zones II-III.
Uses: FOOD: Leaves are used as a vegetable (++) (Sabaot, Pokot, Kikuyu, Marakwet, Kipsigis, Keiyo). The leaves are fried and eaten along with ugali and other foods or mashed with potatoes, maize and pulses. The latter practice is common with the Kikuyu of Central Province. The leaves are harvested using a stick and protection such as polythene bags. After boiling, the stings lose their potency. Leaves are mainly used in Mount Elgon, Kericho, Nyandarua, Nyeri and West Pokot, but their use has declined a great deal in recent years due to the difficulties posed by the hairs. A famine food only (Keiyo).
Management: Propagated by seeds and rhizomes. Urtica massaica invades surrounding areas through its extensive rhizomes as well as seeds. New colonies are established through the seeds which are small and easily transported in mud during the rainy season. Expansion of the plant should be checked by thinning as it may easily invade land meant for other purposes. Mature plants should be cut back for new tender leaves to sprout. In the absence of gloves one should wear a thick polythene bag or, better still, several, while harvesting nettles (the hairs can easily pierce through a polythene bag!). The Pokot normally use a stick to break off the tender tips. These are then picked up and put in a basket.
Remarks: Urtica spp. are used as vegetables in many parts of the world. Skin contact with the hairs causes an intense burning sensation which may take from a few minutes to several hours to subside, depending on the intensity of contact and the individual. The irritating principle has been shown in a related nettle (U. urens L.) to contain acetylcholine and histamine.