Stinging Nettle Pesto


I’ve evangelized stinging nettles plenty in this space before. If you’re still a skeptic, here’s an an oh-so-foolproof way to get yer nettles on. (And a good reason not to feel guilty about owning a Cuisinart that takes up valuable shelf space.) If you live in the PNW, don’t tarry: the coastal nettles are perfect size right now, and foothills nettles shouldn’t be too far off. For my brothers and sisters in the Midwest and Northeast, hang in there—your time is nigh.

2 cups stinging nettles, blanched and chopped (figure 6 cups raw)
1/2 cup Parmesan
1/2 cup pine nuts, roasted
4-5 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Because stinging nettles must be boiled briefly to neutralize the sting—unlike basil—my advice is to use a food processor. Much has been said about making the traditional basil pesto in a blender—much of it disparaging. 101 Cookbooks recommends chopping the ingredients together with a mezzaluna and David Lebovitz uses the uber-traditional mortar and pestle. But nettles are different from basil. Once boiled and drained, they’re a soggy mess; a food processor remedies this sorry state without messing with that splendid day-glo green color.

1. Blanche nettles for a minute in boiling water. Remove to a salad spinner and shake off excess water, then ball up your nettles and give one good squeeze to wring out more water. It’s tough to watch all that dark green, nutrient-laden liquid vanish down the drain, but you’ll want olive oil lubricating your pesto, not water.

2. Add nettles to food processor, along with roasted pine nuts (or walnuts, if you prefer), grated parmesan, garlic cloves, lemon juice, and seasoning. Pour half of the olive oil in and…Whirrrr. Pour the rest of the oil in. Whir again, until your preferred consistency. That’s it.

This recipe makes a fairly pasty pesto; if you want something a little more spreadable for bread, sammiches, etc., try using more olive oil.

Next, think about putting up. You may want to fill a few small (e.g. 4 oz) tubs for the freezer for dinner party pasta, as well as an ice tray for smaller servings. To fill the tray, use a plastic Ziploc with a corner cut out and squeeze out a blob of pesto in each cavity, just like icing. Remove the pesto cubes from the tray once frozen and seal in a freezer bag; now you’ve got instant sauce to brighten a fillet of fish or piece of meat—or simply to spread on good homemade rosemary bread baked by your friend and neighbor, as we did.

29 thoughts on “Stinging Nettle Pesto

  1. matt wright

    YUM. Love nettles. After years of stinging myself on them, and never knowing you could eat them, I am a convert.

    This recipe seems so natural, but yet I have never seen a nettle pesto before.

    I agree with the food processor here, perhaps the one exception to the pesto rule!

    Lovely stuff. Nice photos too.

    Reply
  2. Saara

    I eat (and freeze) nettles by the grocery bag during spring, but hadn’t thought of making pesto. Thanks for the fresh idea!
    And yes, the nettles are just peeking here in the foothills. Once this recent snow melts, we should be ready for harvest.

    Reply
  3. LC

    Matt – I’ll save some pesto for the night we finally get to lift a pint…

    Saara – Thanks for the heads-up. I’m out the door to my usual spot to harvest some more.

    Reply
  4. John in Bellingham

    Don’t dump the squeezed out liquid down the drain! Ever heard of nettle tea? It’s a wonderful spring tonic and tastes pretty good as well, although it’s fairly intense.

    Reply
  5. LC

    John – Thanks for stopping by. I do make nettle tea, although in a more traditional process with dried pulverized nettles. I’ll have a chance to try your method momentarily since I just got back with a couple grocery bags stuffed with prime nettles and plan to boil and freeze batches for the off-season.

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  6. Anonymous

    Wow, wish I’d seen this before we pulled up the stinging nettles growing in our side yard last weekend.

    We got stung pretty good before we figured out what they were – found the remedy growing right alongside them – curly dock; rubbing the leaves over the stung areas relieves the painful itch immediately. Curly dock looks kind of like a dandelion and grows right near the nettles.

    If they come back I’ll try this for sure.

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  7. we are never full

    very interesting – i really like that you made pesto w/ the stinging nettle.

    i’m usually a purist when it comes to making traditional food with authentic techniques but, i have to say, making pesto by hand (ala mortar and pestle) is a real pain in the a–. i’ve tried it many times and i’ve also done the blender/processor way. i notice a VERY slight difference… not enough to get me to pound my pesto every time!

    i’m really curious about the taste of stinging nettle. what would you say its flavor is comparable to?

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  8. John from Bellingham

    LC – been following the blog for a couple of months now; you’re doing exactly what I would do if I had the motivation to blog about my foraging and cooking. You have a small but devoted following up here in South Canada. :)

    If you haven’t already tried it, the “tea” left over from cooked nettles is more like a vegetable broth than an herbal tea, as it has the “cooked” flavor that dried nettles wouldn’t. It does seem to be very phytochemically active however, so I doubt many of the nutrients and other good stuff are destroyed by the cooking process.

    In response to the last comment, nettles taste similar to domestic greens – probably the closest analogue is mustard or turnip greens – but a bit “wilder” and not quite as tender.

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  9. Anonymous

    I had nettle pesto for the first time last year. It is fantastic. It has a distinct but delicious flavor. Yeah for nettle season!

    Reply
  10. Dia

    Oh, what a delightful idea!! I’ll have to try it!

    For years my biologist former hubby & I made nettle quiches, nettle everything! My dad started collecting them on fishing trips again, recalling he’d eaten them as a kid in Milwaukie.

    In seaweed & herb a class with Ryan Drum up on Waldron Isl, his young son delighted in showing us how to eat a nettle leaf raw – (involves FIRMLY stroking the leaf several times from stem to tip, then rolling. you just need to break down the silica ‘hairs’ that hold the formic acid), & I’ve had raw nettles juiced with carrots – rich & green!

    I’m with the others on saving the blanching liquid – I’d use the spinner in a stainless steel bowl.

    I often use Susun Weed’s sug. of nettle (or other herb) infusion, steeping the herbs for 4 hours or so, then storing in the fridge. I often use some of that liquid in cooking :)

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  11. Dia

    You’re right – this is heavenly!! Had to make a second batch a couple of days later.
    For nuts, I cracked some local hazelnuts. I took a wee bowl along to a Red Hat tea – got some rave reviews! thanks again for a new favorite!

    Reply
  12. Christiane M. Brandvoll

    Hey! Recently found your blog and love it. Here in cold Norway the nettles have just started peeking out of the ground. As I live in a big city (Oslo) I wonder how far off the roads I should go before I can be sure that the nettles don’t contain any toxins from street dust, car fumes, etc ?

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    OR — you can salvage the broth and drink it as a tea or use it for a soup instead of letting it “vanish”.
    All that iron and yummy nutrients~ deserve a good home.

    Reply
  14. theadalynfarm

    Oh now I do wish I had jumped on the nettle season at our farm. We probably have 1/2 and acre in shady “cultivation”. I wonder, does the food processor allow for older nettles to be used?

    Reply
  15. trashyteyze

    I guess foraging while you weed isn’t really multi-tasking, but I try to impress myself now and again just the same…I live on the Aegean coast and my garden is full of nettles. I found your recipe as I couldn’t remember just what to do after I picked the pricklies before the pesto process. BTW, I use my magic electric wand – whirrrrrrrrrrrs away into a lovely paste.
    All that said, thank you for taking the time to share – I’ve been on the lookout for a good foraging/cooking/bit-closer-to-home blog!

    Reply
  16. Anonymous

    Have you ever considered nettles with crab in some recipe? Freshly cooked nettles have always given off a sweet briny aroma reminiscent of crab. I think it is a similar mineral content.

    Reply
  17. woodsygirl333

    We used this ‘FAT OF THE LAND’ recipe, except that we didn’t blanch the nettles first to then have to squeeze out the water. We skipped that step and sauteed them in olive oil. It was the best pesto that my husband and I ever had! I’m having this season’s first cup of stinging nettle tea; has a pleasant light aspargus/cucumbery taste…

    Reply
  18. wendy in port townsend

    I finally gathered nettles while bike riding near Port Townsend, WA and made this recipe and it turned out really well! I added more olive oil than you suggested, as I like my pesto creamy. Thanks for a terrific blog!

    Reply
  19. Anonymous

    Some of us out here in Pacific county have been picking nettles for tea and stir fry. Today I had some fiddle head ferns to go along with them. I’m excited to try the pesto idea.

    Reply
  20. wendy

    we just foraged for nettles on the island and made this pesto. yummy again! i also thinned it a bit with lemon juice and olive oil and used it as a salad dressing and it was good! thank you for all the nettles tips!

    Reply

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