March 12, 2016 | Updated May 13, 2020
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Pesto can be made from really anything — you don’t even need a green thing, strictly speaking. Basil pesto is the standard of course, but I’ve also seen it done with also mint, parsley, cilantro and other herbs. No reason not to make it with stinging nettles. The Italians actually do make a nettle pesto in springtime; they call it pesto d’urtica.
Nettle pesto tastes very “green,” and isn’t as aromatic as a basil pesto, but it tastes great and can be done in very early spring, as can my recipe for walnut and parsley pesto; walnut-parsley pesto is a cool weather standard in Italy. I also have a fun recipe for ramp pesto and one for arugula pesto, too.
Even if you’ve never worked with nettles before, you probably know that they, well, sting. There are several varieties of nettles, the best being Urtica dioica and U. urens. To remove that sting, you must first blanch your nettles. This is how:
- You will need two or three big tong-fulls of fresh stinging nettles for this recipe. I say tong-fulls because you do not want to pick up fresh nettles, as they will sting you. Thus the name. Get a huge pot of water boiling and add a handful of salt.
- Grab the nettles with tongs and put them into the boiling water. Stir around and boil for about 90 seconds.
- Fish them out with a skimmer or the tongs and immediately dump them into a big bowl with ice water in it. Once they are cool, put them in a colander to strain.
- Get a cloth towel, like a tea towel, and put the nettles in it. Wrap one end of the towel one way, then the other end of the towel the other and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Chop them fine before making the pesto.
How do you use your pesto?
Well, on pasta is a gimme (note the photos), but it is also excellent on toast, stirred into rice at the last minute, spread over white meat poultry (chicken, pheasant, quail, grouse, turkey) or rabbit — or over fish. I love nettle pesto on spring-run chinook salmon, for example, and it’s great on striped bass or walleye, too.
MORE NETTLE RECIPES:
- Strettine, a nettle pasta
- Risotto with Nettles
- Nettle Ravioli, Northern Italian style
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 heaping tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons grated cheese (any hard cheese will do)
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup blanched, chopped nettles
- Olive oil (use the good stuff)
- Pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle, thus the name, which means "pound." You can make this in a food processor, but it will not be the same. First add the toasted pine nuts and crush lightly -- as they are roundish, they will jump out of your mortar if you get too vigorous. If you are using a processor, pulse a couple times.
- Add the garlic to the mortar, then pound it all enough so that the pieces don't fly around. Add the salt, cheese and the nettles and commence pounding. Mash everything together, stirring with the pestle and mashing well so it is all fairly uniform. With a food processor, run the machine so everything combines, but isn't a smooth paste. You want it with some texture.
- Start adding olive oil. How much? Depends on how you are using your pesto. If you are making a spread, maybe 2 tablespoons. If a pasta sauce, double that or more. Either way, you add 1 tablespoon at a time, pounding and stirring to incorporate it. If you are using the processor, drizzle it in a little at a time. Serve as a spread on bread, as an additive to a minestrone (like this one), as a pasta sauce or as a dollop on fish or poultry.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Fantastic! I like to sun out pistachios for the pine nuts too, for a flavor flip. I want to eat this with a spoon!!
I doubled this recipe as that’s the amount of nettles I harvested. I threw in a little more parmesan and walnuts than called for but other than that, I followed the recipe as is, using a blender. It came out excellent and thanks for publishing this recipe and how to neutralize the nettles. I always wanted to do this as nettles grow abundantly where I live in BC, Canada. The colour of the pesto is absolutely stunning.
I have some nettles that are about 3 ft. high! I plan on cutting off the tender tops and eating them, Using long sleeves and gloves pull out the rest of the plants and lay them in between garden rows and walk on them (wear boots or shoes and socks of some kind) that way the dried plants will fertilize the soil, and hopefully keeps weeds at bay!
An untouched bed of Bishops Weed was completely taken over by Purple Dead Nettle. These do not sting, and leaves are listed as edible and medicinal – would these work for the stinging nettle pesto as well? Any variations in prep?
Gloria: I don’t think so. I think they are different genuses.
I put my homemade basil pesto in ice cube trays and canning jars and freeze for later use. Would that work with nettles?
Amber: Absolutely. That works well.
Is it ok if you don’t blach the nettle but wash it and put in blender with all other ingredients?
Rita: I don’t think so. I am pretty sure you’d get the little stinging hairs in your pesto if you do that.
Yes, the sting is neutralized when macerated.
I actually adapted this recipe a bit based on what I have on hand and what I need to use up. I made it with half nettles and half carrot greens; used roasted cashews instead of pine nuts (can’t just dash to the store like I used to!). Delicious!
Notes to a couple of the commenters:
Nettle seed is a potent medicine, good for fatigue/low energy/burnout. Powder the dry seeds and sprinkle them over food!
Nettle leaves are great medicine too – lots of minerals and vitamins, they’re diuretic and anti-allergenic and just generally fortifying for the body. If you soak them in vodka, the nutritional/medicinal stuff is pulled out of the leaves and into the vodka, so you’re left with some really great medicine that you can use in a cocktail.
I let 1.5 cups of dried nettles sit in vodka for a 5 weeks. I’ve drained the liquid off from the nettles and will be using that as an infusion. How can I use the nettle remnants? Can I follow the recipe above to use them to make a pesto? Can I add them to soups? When I say “can”, what I mean is: are there still enough nutrients left in the nettles so it’s worth doing? Can I get satisfactory results?
Lynn: I sure wouldn’t. I’d toss them. They will taste pretty nasty after an alcohol soak, IMHO.
I wonder how this will taste on fresh trout? I plan on going out today to gather some nettles and perhaps get some fishing in as long as we can fish 6ft apart!!!! My county is in voluntary quarantine right now. stay safe everyone.
Loves your work Hank. I ‘ve been weeding nettles from a friend’ s garden and drying them in the living room. It’s late winter here in Tasmania and the nettles have gone to seed. Thousands of the tiny seeds fall to the floor. But because nettles seem to spread like wildfire, rather than sweeping them out I’m putting them into the fire. Next year I’ll harvest them much earlier.
I just made this for the first time. I usually make pesto with cilantro and hemp seeds and serve over parsnip and carrot strips. I made this today with nettle, hemp seed hearts instead of pine nuts (I always have it on hand is why) and it was more “green” tasting and minty ish scented than expected. A little bitter., too. I made my husband get stung today to test it. Btw the young seedlings (only six leaves on the entire plant) did not sting. The larger adult plants really stung! The young ones were very delicate, is this normal? I’m not sure I like nettle 🙁 I had a few fern fiddleheads and mallow as well today. All very little tastes since this was my first time, really. Thank you for your site!
Hell,o Made some nettle pesto yesterday for the first time. IT has rather a cut grass type smell. Used nettles, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and lemon. Am hoping that if the leaves don;t taste good then the other ingredients will. Cleared the garden of nettles – an added bonus.
Loved this! Made it today with the nettles I had been growing since spring in a big pot outside. We’ve had nettle tea, and nettles sauteed with garlic, which were both nice. The nettle pesto I made with almonds, pine nuts (heavy on both), about 3 cups of nettles (before blanching), and the rest of your ingredients. Oh, added some lemon juice. It was delicious!! Thanks for the recipe and instructions!
You are growing nettles in a pot? How did that happen
You can grow nettles from seed or replant a grown plant. I did the latter by digging up some nettles growing as a weed in the garden, washed their roots and planted them into pots filled with a mix of half soil and half compost and finish by topping it all with an inch thick layer of compost.
As a crop, it grows like a weed and since it’s a perennial it grows back every spring.
I’ve noticed a lot of variations on pesto using different herbs.
Think you might be able to put together a quick list of greens that work well with this preparation?