Himalayan Giant Nettle, otherwise known as Allo is a wild plant belonging to Urticaceae family. Scientifically called Girardinia diversifolia, it is a shade tolerant tall stout and erect herb. This plant grows as clump and each clump has many long stems. The leaves as well as stems contains stinging slender hairs. The whole plant can be used as textile resource, fodder and as vegetable. The economically important part of Nettles are the stem barks. The stem is stout and erect and contains bark with fibres having unique properties (strong, smooth, light and white) which make it useful for many products. In Nepal, the wide range of products derived from the allo plant makes it an important functional and social component of mountainous Himalayan regions.
Uses of Nettle plant
1) In textile industry: Nettles are important as a source of strong, fine, long and hollow fibres. The fibres after being extracted can be spun and woven into articles of clothing and bags.
2) As a vegetable: The tender leaves of nettle plants can be used as vegetable. Nettle has high amount of protein and vitamins and serves as a nutritious diet.
3) As a medicine: Nettle has been used by people as a staple in herbal medicine since ancient times. It has many health benefits such as treating painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis etc.
There are 3 types of nettle plants which can be used to extract fibers:
  1. Himalayan Giant Nettle/Allo (Girardinia diversifolia)
  2. Wild Nettle (Urtica dioica)
  3. Fiber Nettle
Himalayan Giant Nettle and Common Nettle plants can be found abundantly in forests and wetlands near rivers and streams. While Fiber Nettles are carefully bred type of nettles made by researchers which produce high amount of bast fiber. Fiber Nettles haven’t made their way into Nepal yet and haven’t even been registered anywhere in the world.
Climatic Requirement
Allo is widely distributed self-sustaining perennial herb found in mountainous and hilly regions of Nepal. This plant grows abundantly in open forests and moist riverside habitats in altitude of 1200-3000 m. It is best grown in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range of 12-18 degree Celcius  but can tolerate 8-29 degree Celcius. It prefers a mean annual rainfall of 1500-3000 mm but tolerates 1300-4000 mm. Nettles require frequent application of water. The most ideal condition is when precipitation (or irrigation) is distributed uniformly over the main growing period.
Preparation of soil
Nettles require soil rich in Nitrogen and Phosphate (but too much Nitrogen has negative effect on fiber quality) and organic matter. The soil texture should be open and loose and must have good drainage. Although nettles require plenty of water, they cannot tolerate water logging. Nettles can thrive on soil with pH range of 5.0 to 8.0. To protect soil moisture, mulching should be done.
In the wild, nettles reproduce mainly via their roots. They spread their rhizome and form underground stems that extend out to grow by producing new shoots. We can propagate nettles through either vegetative propagation or through seeds. For vegetative propagation, cut the apex portion, six inches from the top and just below a leaf node. Strip the leaves except some at the top. Place the cutting in nursery soil and water regularly. After 3-4 weeks the cuttings develop roots and can be transplanted onto the main field. Through various researches it was found that vegetatively grown plants had more bast fiber percentage than sexually reproduced plant. The time for transplanting as well as sowing the seeds is Chhait-Baisakh.
Intercrop/Crop rotations
Through various researches, it was found that rather than using inorganic fertilizers, the fiber quality improved after using White Clover (Trifolium repens) as a covercrop. It helps in providing nettlles with Nitrogen by fixing them and also helps to prevent water loss through evaporation and also prevent soil erosion. White Clover also serves as fodder crop and doesn’t require almost any extra inputs. Other leguminous plants such as Lupins are also recommended for their Nitrogen fixation. Possibilities for crops succeeding nettle are potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), sugar beet (Beta vulgaris) and other root crops after intensive tillage.
Fiber production of nettle begins with the second crop and continues successively. In the first year, nettle stalks do not achieve the quality requires for fiber processing. In the second year, nettle can be harvested in Shrawan. Plants are ready for harvest when seed matures in the lower parts. While harvesting gloves and proper safety should be taken to prevent injuries from the pricks of the plant. While harvesting the stalks, we should cut 15-20 cm above ground, just above a leaf node so that new growth can arise from there and 20 cm below the top since the quality of fiber in plant tops are poor.
There are many ways of processing nettles. According to an indigenous way of processing nettle of a Gurung village in Sikles, Nepal, after harvesting, the leaves and thorns are removed from the stalk. The outer bark which contains the fiber is removed by crushing the stalks and the bark is kept on field to sun-dry for 2-3 days. After sun drying, the green bark is boiled with ash for 3 hours. Once boiled, the fiber is set aside for a day and then washed with fresh water, usually in a stream accompanied by frequent beating with a mallet. The beating and washing is repeated 3-4 times and then the fiber is sundried for 8 hours to make it soft and fine. The fiber is beaten, washed and sundried 2-3 times more and finally when the fiber becomes soft and white shiny color, it is ready for spinning into yarn.
In commercial nettle production, extracting the fibers by the traditional way is almost impossible due to the time and energy it takes to process large amount of nettles. So, to make it easier to operate in large scale, the process of ‘Retting’ is done. It is the process of decomposing the gummy (pectinous) substances which hold the fibers together. It can be done in three ways:
  1. Field retting: In this method, the harvested stalks are sun-dried on the field for 2-3 weeks. In this duration, the pectinous substance of nettle is decomposed by microorganisms.
2. Water retting: Water retting dissolves the interfiber substance in the same way as field method by utilizing the microorganisms. Stalks are kept inside still water for 10 days and rinsed after that. The ratio by weight of stalks to water should be 1:20 to ensure good results.
3. Chemical retting: In this method, the stalks are dipped in chemicals for a certain time. The chemicals used are 1% NaOH, 0.5% Na2SO3 and 0.05% (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) EDTA. The stalks are treated in this solution at 100°C for 60 minutes and then rinsed for 10 minutes at 60°C. After that, 2% CH3COOH is used to treat for 10 minutes at 60°C. After this, drying is necessary to prevent further fermentation.

Allo – Mahaguthi

After retting is done, the stalks are dipped 2 times in hot water at 60°C to remove wax and color. After the dips, the stalks are sun dried for 2 hours. Then the stalks are beaten and rinsed in water up to ten times to remove significant lignin, bark and woody portions of the stalk. In between the beatings, the fibers are opened and short and long fibers are separated. Gradually with each beating, the fibers will start to become smooth and silky and are then ready to be spun into yarns.

The Himalayan Giant Nettle And Allo Weave | Marina Vaptzarova's Blog STUDIO 23 Textile: Home

Diseases and Pests
Nettles are not subject to much or any diseases or pests so there’s no need to use pesticides in nettle cultivation. The only known pests that affect nettlles are butterfly species like Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock Butterfly, Red Admiral, Painted Lady etc. Their caterpillars feed on nettle leaves and develop quickly and can cause complete defoliation. Growth retardation of nettle may occur, especially in first crop year, but plants usually recover quickly. Diseases (Peronospora debaryi, Pseudoperonospora urticae) cause only small, local damage and doesn’t affect fiber quality.


     source :UNDP
Generally, the fiber obtained from Allo’s bark has been used for a variety of woven products, such as clothes, bags, porter strap, sacks, table cloths, blankets etc. and are marketed in Kathmandu and are also exported to foreign countries such as the USA, Japan and other parts of the world.
According to the Handicraft Association Nepal, more than Rs. 4.8 million (US$ 65,750) worth of products made from Allo are exported annually to the international market which is approximately 3.3% of total textile products exported. The primary producers of Allo can either sell the yarn to collectors or they themselves can make materials for sale in Kathmandu shops or also through the Common Facility Centers (CFC) promoted by Micro Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP).



-Prashant Gyawali

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