Stinging nettles can be quite the tasty treat. This, of course, requires first boiling away the poisonous hairs that cover the plant. But at the annual nettle-eating competition in the British village of Marshwood, culinary delight is not a priority. Held in southwest England’s Dorset county, this convivial gathering is no one-time feat: It’s been going on since the 1980s. Allegedly, the entire event originated after two farmers insisted that each had the longest nettles in his yard. The loser had to eat a stalk of them.
Today, the World Nettle Eating Championships attract hundreds of people willing to watch several dozen competitors eat as many blatantly poisonous leaves as they can stomach in one hour (literally, as vomiting is not allowed). The stinging nettle’s stalks and leaves deposit tiny spikes upon contact, each of which injects a cocktail of chemicals that cause burning sensations. Continued consumption causes the skin to blacken and the tongue to swell. Contestants may not bring their own nettles; all consumables are provided by the organizers. The only liquids permitted during the hour of pain are water and beer. Adoring (and horrified) onlookers, along with live music, give the event a festive feel.
In 2018, the appropriately named Phil Thorne consumed 104 feet of stinging nettles, successfully beating his previous record of 96 feet. Mel Long and Rachel Woods tied for first in the women’s competition, each downing around 61 feet of nettles.