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Nettle Arugula Pesto

nettle arugula pesto

I like including wild foods and herbs in my diet, and a pesto is an easy and very versatile way to do so. Like many of my recipes, I offer you a technique that can be modified to suit your taste palette, the ingredients you have on hand, or just for fun and variety. 


1 clove garlic
1/2c. roasted sunflower seeds (or almonds, or pine nuts)
2c. nettles
2c. arugula
1/2 a squeezed lemon
1/2c. extra virgin olive oil
optional: handful of other herbs such as parlsey, mint, lemon balm, cilantro
optional: parmesan cheese

Add garlic clove to food processor and blend on high until roughly chopped. Add sunflower seeds, again blending until roughly chopped. Add nettles, arugula, any other herbs, as well as the lemon juice and olive oil. Blend until smooth. If adding parmesan, stir or briefly blend in grated cheese at the end.

Serve on top of vegetables (roasted carrots, mashed yams, a stirfry, anything really!), on top of meats, or as a dressing for pasta. Also delicious as a dollop on a salad.


Notes on nettles:

Nettles are a super nutritious wild food. They are a weed, and grow commonly in abandoned fields, roadsides, and around fences. Their nutrient profile is similar to spinach, kale, or other dark leafy greens, but as a wild food nettles are typically even more nutritious than these foods. Wild foods, which have to survive to thrive, rather than being cultivated, tend to have to sequester more nutrients and therefore are more nutrient dense.  


Take caution however, because nettles come with a stinging surprise! Their leaves and stems are covered in fine little hairs that contain formic acid. If the hairs break and the acid is released, it causes a stinging sensation that can last for up to 24 hours (in my experience!). Nettles should be carefully harvested with a pair of work gloves or kitchen gloves, long sleeves, and pants. Some herbalists seem to have the magic touch – they can delicately harvest without getting stung. But unless this is you, I advise you to prepare wisely!

Another note with any wild harvested food is to be aware of where you are sourcing it from. I recommend you don’t harvest from the roadside, as these ditches contain runoff from the road that bioaccumulates in any organic matter growing there. Likewise for any industrial area or empty lot. Make sure the area you are picking from is not contaminated.

Nettles have to be processed in one of a variety of ways to get rid of the sting so you can eat them safely. One method is cooking – they can be steamed, sautéed, added to a stir fry or stew, just as you would any other green. The other is blending them well, as I have done here, which also deactivates the sting. In the past I have also added them to smoothies as an alternative to spinach.