Pithoragarh, June 6: People who live in the isolated mountain communities of the Hindu Kush Himalayas depend heavily on the fiber-producing plant Girardinia diversifolia (Himalayan nettle). A village that creates textiles from the Himalayan nettle is located in Khar in Darchula of Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh district.
Its fabric and products are sold in local, national, and international markets as high-quality goods. According to the Pangaia brand, the Himalayan nettle was recently used as a fiber for the first time in beaded denim, continuing its mission to develop alternatives to "overproduced, resource-intensive materials like cotton". It also became social support for Himalayan women who together offer Pangaian nettles, it added.
Dr Amanda Parkes, head of innovation at Pangaia said that their idea is to monetize them and make it one beautiful story of sustainability that they're really trying to optimize.
Furthermore, Himalayan nettle is widely used in traditional medicine to treat various ailments such as stomach disorders, chest pains, rheumatism, tuberculosis, headache, joint aches, diabetes, asthma, gastritis, headache, joint pain, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea and delivery problems.
Other traditional uses relate to broken bones, internal injuries and blood purification. It is also famous for using its bark and fiber to make various clothes, ropes, carpets, bags and other household items. In that context, it is one of the main non-timber forest products used for the livelihood of rural communities in the Himalayan region. The young leaves and flowers are boiled into a green vegetable. Roasted seeds are consumed marinated.
Himalayan nettle has a glossy exterior. It possesses the longest known thread and, after being spun, it is finer than linen while also being stronger and more elastic.
Since there has been an increase in demand for sustainable fibres and cotton substitutes in Western nations, many farmers and producers in Germany have begun to grow nettle, which has shown to be quite adaptable and is distinguished by fineness and flexibility.
Due to the volume fraction of cellulose, nettle fibres also possess good tensile qualities. All-natural fibres' maximum tensile strength ranges from 40 to 50 cN/tex. Cotton ranges from 16 to 17 cN/tex, linen from 20 to 23, hemp from 22 to 30, and polyester from 60 cN/tex.
Nettles are a viable and legal crop since, unlike hemp fibres, there is no legal restriction on growing them. Similar to hemp, nettles grow with far less water and no chemicals than cotton. Due to their high growth rate and perennial nature, which allows for yearly harvest, they are a rapidly renewable resource.
This promoted studies and improvements in spinning techniques, as well as crossbreeding to create the best nettle plants with high fibre yields.
According to Dr Heiko Beckhaus, President of NFC GmbH Nettle Fibre Company, he has been successful in cultivating a new variety of nettle that contains 20 per cent fibre.
Nettles have long been used to make textiles, according to research. Stinging nettle fibre has been used in textile materials for at least 3 years. However, cotton, which was more environmentally destructive but easier to work with and less expensive after World War II, displaced the natural fibres, he added.
Nettle yarn is in high demand due to its benefits, demonstrating how this product is ideal to "replace synthetic materials".
Dr Heiko Beckhaus further said that this fibre is the most stable among natural fibres. However, nettle's level of fibre content, which is only about 10 per cent, is low compared to other domestic fibre plants, and the decortication process is more complex, he added.
It's a great opportunity for the Indian government to operationalize India's initiative for sustainable growth and focus towards these small farmers of the region thereby working towards its Make in India program.
Environmental harm brought on by the production of synthetic fibres and the growth of non-organic cotton for fast fashion is a subject of growing concern. However, there is a movement towards using stinging nettle fibres as it is an environmentally friendly material.
The nettle value chain has a high potential to improve the lives of many low-income households in the Himalayan areas if it can be enhanced at each link in the chain.