When asked why he climbed Mount Everest, pioneering mountaineer George Mallory tersely replied, “Because it’s there.” Of America’s first lunar mission, John F. Kennedy famously stated, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Such is the inspiration behind man’s most famous, most outlandish, and — let’s be honest — stupidest feats in history. From rope-free climbs of El Capitan to solo hiking across Antarctica to sailing the Atlantic Ocean in a barrel, some things need to be done because, well because they just need to be done. Such is the case with Britain’s wholly unnecessary World Nettle Eating Championship.
The title leaves little to the imagination — this championship is exactly what it sounds like. In a most un-British fashion, the competition runs each year with little pomp or circumstance. Several dozen strangers gather with hundreds of spectators at the Bottle Inn pub in rural Marshwood, England (population: 310). Contestants are provided two-foot lengths of raw nettle. The brave soul who strips and eats the most leaves in one hour is declared the winner. To be clear, this is stinging nettle, a tall flowering plant with thousands of tiny, knife-like hairs designed to embed and inject chemical irritants into the skin. Few contestants last the full hour, while many more vomit resulting in immediate disqualification.
Stinging nettle has thousands of tiny, knife-like hairs designed to embed and inject chemical irritants into the skin.
If watching a bunch of savage Brits force-feed themselves toxic plants sounds like a form of Gitmo-worthy sadism, take heart. One local bloke told The Mirror, “It doesn’t hurt as much as you might think, you just get a tingling around your mouth.” If that doesn’t sell you, he went on to say, “The worst bit is the jaw ache because you’re chewing for an hour straight. I get quite carried away with it to be honest, with the crowd cheering us on. It’s quite exciting. It does leave you having to go to the toilet quite regularly.” So, it’s not that bad. Plus, there’s even live music, dancing, and a guaranteed family-friendly festival atmosphere!
Nathan’s World Famous Hot Dog Eating Competition, Iowa’s now-banned Erotic Corn Dog Eating Contest, and that legendary pie-eating scene in Stand by Me — all testaments to our fascination with gross overconsumption. But, of course, these are more about the limits of human endurance. Likewise, the World Nettle Eating Championship is less about eating, and more about how much suffering humans are willing to endure before tapping out. Aptly named Philip Thorne set the all-time record during the 2018 championship by consuming 104 feet of stinging nettle leaves in one hour. That’s roughly the height of a ten-story building. Those “other [hard] things” Kennedy spoke of? These are those things.
The date of the championship changes each year as it depends on a good supply of nettles. Details of the 2019 event have yet to be confirmed, but it’s expected to take place in June or July pending an announcement on Bottle Inn’s Facebook page.