In the detail
- Oct 27, 2002
- Reaction score
Britons braced to grasp the nettle -- and eat it
By Gideon Long
LONDON, June 17 (Reuters) - A handful of hardy souls will descend on a quiet English village this weekend to stuff their mouths full of stinging nettles in a bizarre competition which started as an argument in a pub.
Combatants will gather at The Bottle Inn in Marshwood, southwest England, on Saturday night to take part in the 9th annual World Nettle Eating Championship.
It is a mouth-watering prospect.
Competitors must pluck and eat as many leaves as they can from the feathery, stinging plants in the space of one hour. Their achievement is measured in feet and inches -- the combined length of the bare stems they discard.
"You have to adopt the correct technique to stand any chance of winning," said Shane Pym, landlord of the Bottle Inn. www.thebottleinn.co.uk.
"The art is to fold the top of the leaf inwards, get it past the lips, crunch it and then get it down the neck. You can't let your mouth get dry or you will get stung."
The championship has a short but colourful history.
It started in 1986 as a heated argument in the pub between two farmers who both claimed that the nettles at the back of their silage pits were the longest.
The landlady of the Bottle Inn intervened and declared an competition to resolve the dispute. Other farmers were also invited to take part.
Three years later, local man Alex Williams threw down a gauntlet to his rivals in the shape of a nettle measuring 15 feet 6 inches (4.7 metres). If anyone could produce a longer one, he boasted, he would eat it.
For the next eight years, Williams was forced -- almost literally -- to eat his words. Each year, someone would step forward with a longer nettle and, each year, Williams would dutifully chomp his way though it.
In 1997, the event evolved in to a straight fight to eat the most nettles, a format which has endured until now.
The rules are strict.
Competitors cannot wear gloves and must eat the leaves of ordinary "Urtica Dioica" stinging nettles supplied by the pub. Beer is allowed but mouth-numbing drugs are strictly forbidden.
Around 40 entrants are expected to take part this year and while most of them are local farmers from rural Dorset, a few are coming from Ireland and Belgium to take part.
Last year's winner ate 42 feet's worth of nettle leaves while the world record is an impressive 74 feet.
"We've never had any serious injuries but we do have ambulance men standing by, just in case," Pym said.
"It can sometimes get a little bit contentious."