It was the first day of spring in Cornwall, with warm sun and a brisk wind from the west as I set off to pick some. Many Lesser Celandine had flowered that morning and I was the first to see them, Primroses too and just a sign of Earthnut leaves coming up. I have a regular spot for this at the lower edge of a field that gets the sun but is protected from the north and east by woodland. It’s a good spot and I found that a colony of moles had set-up camp there since I last visited. I have picked nettles from an area protected from the elements even at the beginning of February but it takes a while to pick enough nettle leaves for soup at this time of year.

Early Spring Nettles

Use scissors as tongs when picking nettles

You can pick the tiny nettle heads quite easily with scissors, then lift them into a container, using the scissors as tongs. Cut them carefully, avoiding any discoloured leaves that might be ‘frost caught’. They’ll grow back again quickly and you can keep a harvest of fresh tops running into summer by regular soup collections. Its been such a mild winter in Cornwall this year that some of the nettles were re-forming on last year’s stalks, but there were also many new growths, tiny little leaves just poking through. Yummy. Nettle soup is just my favourite. Get it early in the spring because the plants toughen up quickly, and mature plants can be dangerous to eat as the ‘stingers’ don’t break down as easily.

Be careful where you gather the nettle tops. Avoid fields that get sprayed, roadsides or other chemical contamination. If possible take them from a wild place that isn’t interfered with.

Having written that I put them in a plastic bag because I knew they would be home in minutes, simmering on the stove, but normally an open basket of some kind is better for gathering wild food. It’s quite easy to pick the nettle tops and prepare them without being stung at all.