We’re half way through spring and the warm weather has arrived. Hooray! I love this time of year as it’s a treasure trove of fresh green spring leaves. My favourite are the fresh green tips of nettle. If nettle tea isn’t your thing, try this nettle pesto recipe.
What’s so great about nettle?
We herbalists use all parts of the nettle plant. The fresh green tops that you find in early spring are the most fun way of using nettle as they make a great addition to a salad and an excellent pesto. Nettle seed also makes a great pesto if you come across your nettle patch later on in the year. Nettles are packed with nutrients so it’s a great way to top up your vitamins and minerals.
Nettles are best known for their sting thanks to the hollow hairs on the underside of the leaf which contain a bunch of chemicals including formic acid and histamine. You can overcome this by blanching them in boiling water for 1-minute before you eat them. You don’t want to be eating fresh nettle leaves.
How to harvest nettle for eating
If the sting bothers you, wear gloves when you are picking your nettles. Go for the fresh spring growth at the tip of the stem. Leave the more grown up leaves behind. To overcome the stinginess, remove the leaves from their stems and blanch them quickly in boiling water just before you are going to use them. Nettle’s botanical name is Urtica dioica. Dioica means two houses because you get male and female plants. As a food, it doesn’t matter whether you are harvesting a male or female plant.
Your standard pesto recipe
Pesto comes from the Italian word, pestare. It’s also where the pestle as in mortar and pestle comes from. It means to crush or pound. A pesto combines something green (basil, parsley, coriander leaves or in our case, nettle) with garlic, olive oil, a hard cheese (usually parmesan), and a nut of some kind (usually pine nuts but sometimes walnuts).
Nettle pesto recipe
- 3 cups of nettle spring tips, blanched
- enough olive oil to get the consistency you like – usually about 1 cup
- 1 cup pine nuts (or walnuts if you prefer)
- 4 cloves garlic
- himalayan or sea salt
- juice from half a lemon
The best pesto is made in a mortar and pestle but I’ll also talk about how to make it in a food processor.
Begin by grinding the dry ingredients. Add your nuts and salt and pound them into a paste. Add the garlic and cheese and keep grinding the ingredients into the mortar. Add a bit of olive oil to keep things moving in the mortar.
Then add your blanched nettle leaves bit by bit, pounding as you go. Keep adding olive oil to maintain your desired consistency. Check the taste. Add a bit more lemon, salt or parmesan according to your personal preference.
If you are making this in a food processor, add your nettles first and pulse it. Then add your dry ingredients and pulse again. Finally put the food processor on a low setting and pour in the olive oil until you get your desired consistency.
How long will nettle pesto keep for?
Nettle pesto will keep in the fridge for about a month.
Boiling your jars before adding your freshly made pesto reduces the risk of it spoiling. You can keep your pesto tasting fresh by covering the top of it with extra olive oil.