Tak­ing the sting out of net­tles for skin care

DAVID MEDCALF WENT TO RATHDANGAN IN WEST WICK­LOW TO MEET UNA LAM­BERT, WHO IS BUSY RE­VIV­ING THE REP­U­TA­TION OF ONE OF OUR MOST COM­MON WEEDS, TAK­ING THE GOOD­NESS OF NET­TLES TO CRE­ATE HER OWN COS­MET­ICS

Bray People - - INTERVIEW -

UNA LAM­BERT lives on the side of a pic­turesque hill­side in West Wick­low.

A mother of five, mar­ried to builder Kevin Lam­bert, she lives a per­fectly nor­mal life in many re­spects.

The fam­ily home is per­fectly suited to mod­ern liv­ing, set in a large gar­den with im­mac­u­late lawns. The house is lo­cated on a small farm with a per­fectly or­di­nary flock of com­mer­cial sheep graz­ing the land.

Yet Una boasts a per­fectly ex­tra­or­di­nary oc­cu­pa­tion, prob­a­bly one of a kind in Wick­low, if not all of Ire­land. She grows net­tles. Where most gar­den­ers view net­tles as the en­emy, she tends a patch of them, about 50 square me­tres.

She col­lects net­tle seeds. She plants her net­tles in drills. She har­vests net­tles.

While not even Una thinks of net­tles as things of beauty, she is strongly con­vinced that they are much more than mere sting­ing weeds.

She draws on the long held be­lief, now backed up by sci­en­tific re­search, that net­tles have some valu­able prop­er­ties.

Not only are the leaves a nu­tri­tious food for hu­mans but they also may be used to make a very ef­fec­tive plant fer­tiliser.

And she is busy turn­ing this most un­usual crop into an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent for her range of skin care prod­ucts. Yes, wel­come to Nean­tóg. Una Lam­bert ex­plains that the word means net­tles in Ir­ish, so it was the ob­vi­ous choice re­ally for her lat­est ven­ture.

She is end­lessly en­thu­si­as­tic about her cho­sen plants: ’Net­tles are go­ing back to me­di­ae­val times, a great spring tonic with heal­ing ben­e­fits. ‘ They were used for a va­ri­ety of ail­ments.’ She is a proud na­tive of ru­ral Rathdangan, where her late par­ents Paddy and Ju­lia Ka­vanagh used to run the farm.

At 56 acres, it was not a large hold­ing, so Paddy used to de­liver the ‘Ir­ish Press’.

As a re­sult of his work com­mit­ments, the fam­ily was brought up in part in Dublin, com­ing back from the city up into the hills for week­ends and sum­mer hol­i­days to look after the land.

In 1979, ev­ery­one moved back full time to the farm, which is in the town­land of Ballinguile.

‘At ten years old, I was de­lighted with the move, with the free­dom of the coun­try­side,’ re­calls Una, who has worked hard to re­main here ever since.

She proved a most re­luc­tant stu­dent when dis­patched to the board­ing school not so ter­ri­bly far away in Cas­tle­d­er­mot.

Her mis­ery was even­tu­ally recog­nised and she fin­ished her sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion at the vo­ca­tional col­lege in Hack­et­stown, where she was much hap­pier.

This was fol­lowed by a stint of busi­ness stud­ies at Car­low RTC, nowa­days the in­sti­tute of tech­nol­ogy, ex­plor­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion, law and eco­nom­ics.

She then headed for the United States, tak­ing odd jobs – child care, mail shots and wait­ress­ing – in New York, liv­ing in the Bronx for a year.

‘I en­joyed it,’ she says of her time in New York, ‘ but I came home when my mother got sick and I have been here ever since.’

She re­turned in 1991 and mar­ried Kevin Lam­bert, a builder, in 1994, putting her busi­ness skills to good use in the of­fice of the lo­cal Su­per­Valu be­fore son Tier­nan came along.

The first born was fol­lowed by two more boys and a cou­ple of girls – Bren­dan, Lor­can, Ju­lia and Aine.

As the fam­ily grew up, their en­tre­pre­neur­ial mother thrashed around look­ing for al­ter­na­tive ways of sup­ple­ment­ing their in­come.

For a while, they shared the farm not only with sheep but also with pigs.

An­other ven­ture al­lowed the chil­dren to learn about car­ing for flocks of hens and ducks,

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