Ramie is a flowering plant that is native to Asia. It is harvested and processed to yield strong fibers of the same name, which are used in the production of textiles, twine, upholstery, filters, and sacking. Like flax, jute, and hemp, ramie is considered a bast fiber crop, meaning that the usable portion of the plant is found in its connective tissue structures. The plant is widely cultivated in several Asian nations, which export it around the world.
The scientific name for the plant is Boehmeria nivea, and it is also sometimes called Chinese Grass. It grows in the form of stalks with heart shaped leaves that sprout up from an extensive underground root system. Ramie is in the nettle family, and it has the characteristic small silvery hairs associated with nettles, although the hairs do not sting. The stalk can be harvested up to six times each year in favorable cultivating conditions, although three to four crops annually are much more common.
The plants must be extensively processed to yield ramie fiber. A series of beatings, washings, and chemical treatments extracts the usable part of the plant and de-gums the fiber so that it will be usable. Once processed, ramie can be spun into thread or yarn, and it is sometimes also blended with other textile materials to make it more versatile.
Pure ramie is very strong, resistant to mold and bacteria, lustrous, and it holds its shape very well. However, the fibers are also stiff, not terribly elastic, and sometimes difficult to work with because they can be very brittle. In addition, ramie does not take dye very well. All of these shortcomings make it more expensive than similar plant fibers, such as linen. Although the material has been used in the production of textiles for thousands of years, many producers prefer to produce it in blends rather than using it plain.
Like linen and other textiles made from woody fiber, ramie requires special care. Ideally, the fabric should be hand washed cold and not wrung or heavily pressed before being laid flat to dry. Once dried, clothing should be stored flat and not be sharply creased or folded. In some cases, ramie can also be dry cleaned or machine washed on a gentle setting, and the care directions on the fabric should always be carefully followed to avoid damaging it.