Fire eater illustration and animation by Hannah Foley. All right reserved (

Recently I’ve been feeling inspired about nettles. My Grandma used to nurture a patch at the bottom of her garden to deter burglars and Big Dreamer once made a really excellent nettle beer so their uses are many and varied. They’re supposed to be packed with goodness. Granted it’s hard to get past the urban dog-peed-on, side-of-the-road reputation and to do this you must concentrate on images of luscious undergrowth beside country paths. You can’t be too picky about the sort of nettle you might want to associate with. It definitely does help to know that nettles are part of the mint family. The best sort are the spring shoots of spring nettles, picking the top 15cm or so of the plant.

We made a wonderful chicken and nettle pie. According to the recipe I should have been able to turn it out of the tin so that I had a freestanding cold pie, the sort you might take on a picnic. I don’t know what I did wrong but mine collapsed within seconds of removal. My pastry-making skills obviously aren’t up to the job. Nevertheless it was delicious so I heartily recommend having a go. For the pastry you will need 300g plain flour, 150g cold butter, iced water, 1 medium egg and a splash of milk. The filling consisted of 1 large colander of nettle tops, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 200g bacon lardons, 2 small onions, 2 garlic cloves, 25g butter, 75g plain flour, 500ml warm chicken stock, 100ml double cream and 350g cold roast chicken. And no, I’m not telling you what to do. I followed the method to the letter so winging it can only be of benefit.

Other ideas for culinary escapades with nettles include:

  • boiling for 1 minute, pureeing and seasoning, then either mixing with cream to eat with fish or adding to soup.
  • drying, then crumbling the dried leaves into hot water to make nettle tea.

Here’s a fire-eater for those of you wondering what it’s like to cook with nettles. That’s a joke by the way.

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