The flowers mature into a small walnut-sized pod that turns brown in late summer and opens to expose three hard-shelled beans. My Mother told me that they were safe to eat if I removed the tiny white tip on each bean. So I decided to check the internet to see if she was right.
What I found was a great blog—Rick Hammer's Flora of the Texas Rolling Plains of the Texas Rolling Plains. It was there I found some interesting facts about bull nettles, and also comments from other readers, telling of their very painful contacts with this plant.
To understand why their experiences were so panfuls take a close look at the photo, left, and read what Rick Hammer has to say about The Texas Bull Nettle or Cnidoscolus texanus.
"Notice both the main stem and the stem branches. All are covered with hispid or bristly hairs. But these are not normal hairs; they are extremely painful, stinging hairs. The leaves are covered with the same stinging hairs as well. Here is how this plant defense mechanism works: If the foliage or stems are touched, the glass-like hairs break off in the skin (yours or a hapless four-legged fellow creature) and act like hypodermic needles. The “needles” release a toxin which causes an intense burning sensation. This effect is a type of allergic response known as contact urticaria and the reaction can last for several days."
Victims wrote of suffering painful itching rashes lasting up to three months. One said his hand was so painful, he wanted to cut it off. One person wrote "....have severe swelling, bruising, and HUGE dark red to black blisters from my knee to my foot. The pain & itch is so intense I practically keep myself knocked out with Benadryl and have gone through 3 tubes of Cortaid in 2 days."
Another tells being a teenager and going camping on the Guadalupe River. He described their adventure thus: "Some of our more mentally altered group decided it would be a grand idea to run down to the river to skinny dip at midnight – BAD IDEA. It sounded like a pack of panthers trying to pass kidney stones. One of our party had to go to the hospital for steroid shots."
Shots may be the only way to ease the misery for some. There were other suggestions, (some not very ladylike) but it seems there's no dependable relief. I see that I was a very lucky girl because after a few hours, my itching went away—if I didn't scratch or rub the place.
One writer said he had a field full of bull nettles. According to several reports, he probably won't be getting rid of them soon. Their roots go deep—sometimes three to six feet and are massive, and they seem imperious to both commercial plant killers and homemade concoctions.
Oh yes—many youngsters, besides myself, enjoyed eating the bull nettle beans, and none mentioned removing the little white kernel on the end.
I am glad I found Rick Hammer's blog, and I expect you will enjoy it also.