Did you know that Petra of Fruition Seeds and I offer a (free!) seasonal Bioregional Herbalism webinar? Always with ASL interpretation thanks to Kira Avery. Last night we recorded our spring webinar all about making wild greens pesto! You can sign up for future webinars and listen to the library of past recordings here.
Sharing some botanical highlights from last night's webinar along with the recipe here. Tune into the recording for some somatic practices that have helped us show up despite our hearts made heavy by the recent Roe v Wade implications.
WILD GREENS PESTO RECIPE (& an exploration of Stinging Nettle)
Pesto is traditionally made with aromatic basil using a mortar and pestle. But did you know you can make a delicious, food-as-medicine style pesto with your blender and the abundance of mineral rich spring greens that are popping up (often as "weeds") all over your garden this time of year? I'd love to highlight the common Stinging Nettle (urtica dioica) for this recipe, although as you'll see, I can't help but add a few more wild greens in.
You might feel apprehensive about eating a plant with "stinging" in the name, and I get it! But worry not, the trichomes that produce that notorious sting melt away with a quick and easy blanching process. You might have already experienced this phenomenon when making Nettle tea. A little more about those stingers: there are little hairs (trichomes) on Stinging Nettle's stems and the underside of their leaves. When you brush up against them or touch them with your bare hands, the trichomes break and release formic acid and histamine - causing the painful stinging reaction that many of us are familiar with. Just as this mechanism can cause pain, it also also relieve it. I have known several people who regularly visit a patch of Stinging Nettle and purposefully apply the fresh plant to painful, arthritic areas of their bodies. This process is called Urtication, a reference to the genus of the plant. Once the initial sting fades away, they have relief from their arthritic pain for hours. A study from Duke in 2001 explains the phenomenon: "Urtication injects histamine and acetyl-choline into the skin, which can overload pain signals in the urticated area and block pain signals of arthritic joints."*
Despite their stings, Nettles are an extremely safe and generally applicable tonic herb. I once walked into a favorite herb store in Ithaca, NY (Bramble!) and saw “When in doubt, give nettles” scrawled across a large chalk board and attributed to clinical herbalist, David Winston. I think the quote is meant to be funny and oversimplifying but there is a thread of truth to it. By their nature as a mineral rich tonic, when taken on a regular or even daily basis, Nettles can help to strengthen us in a deep way that may end up working on symptoms of imbalances in our larger health picture.
From Thomas Easley's book The Modern Herbal Dispensatory, “Nettles are a nourishing herbal food, rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, protein, and other nutrients. Nettles help to build healthy blood, bones, joints, and skin.”
My personal favorite ways to imbibe Nettle medicine is first and foremost eating them! Such as in this recipe I will be sharing shortly. Second is making hot water infusions of the dried herb in the evening, letting it steep all night, and drinking it in the morning. Lastly, Nettles infuse beautifully in Apple Cider Vinegar and can then be worked into any recipe calling for ACV.
A note on Nettles drying nature: My constitution tends toward the dry side and I notice that taking Nettles as a single herb on a daily basis makes me feel even drier. To counteract their drying nature, I tend to blend nettle with mucilaginous herbs like linden or violet leaf to neutralize them. This is not the case for everyone, but it is worth mentioning! I love the way Nettle feels in my body when I combine it with moistening herbs, like the ones I mentioned.
Okay! Now to touch on a few more herbs you might want to add to your wild green pesto:
Chickweed (Stellaria media) A moistening and mineral rich herb. Ruled by the moon and does not disappoint with its juicy deliciousness. Very common garden ground cover that you might not even know is in your garden!
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) as the name suggests, a delicious allium to add to your pesto (or salad or soup!) This plant is extremely abundant up and down the east coast and inwards - it has a compound that stunts the growth of nearby plants and spreads rapidly in the herbaceous layer of forests and field edges. And it is delicious in its pre flowering and early flowering stage. There is a lot of hype around harvesting and cooking with Ramps, a native plant that can take 7 years to reach reproductive maturity. Why not harvest Garlic Mustard instead and do your local forest a favor? Get a positive ID and go ahead and harvest to your hearts delight!
Violet leaf (Viola spp.) So many species of violets - who is turning up in your garden? Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide is helpful in figuring out which species you are looking at. Violet leaves are edible, moistening, and delicious. The flowers are edible, tasty, and look lovely as a garnish on top of your pesto or salad.
Those are just a few! Read Fruition Seeds post here to discover even more wild greens to add to your pesto.
By the way, wild greens pesto is nothing new! These foods and medicines have long been collected and made into meals by native and immigrant communities living on these lands. Perhaps your ancestors were picking Nettles and Violets and making a delicious side dish with them too. I love to remember that my grandparents in Ireland occasionally foraged mushrooms and plants to add to their meals.
- A quarter pound of fresh Nettle tips. I like to use the top 4-6 inches of the plant so that it grows back readily and so that I don’t have the separate the leaves from the stem, which is tougher lower down in the plant. If you are working with tougher stems, simply remove the leaves from the stems with your garden gloves, which by the way, I wear for the entire harvest for protect my hands from stings.
- Seeds. A half cup or so. Traditionally Pine nuts. I tend to use Sunflower or Hemp seeds which I can source locally. You can add them raw or toast them on a pan for a minute or two while constantly shaking the pan as to not burn them.
- Garlic! 2-3 cloves if you have no alliums in your wild greens. If you are adding Garlic Mustard, you may not need to add much additional garlic.
- Olive Oil. To taste! Less for a pesto intended as a spread, maybe 2 tablespoons. More for a pesto intended as a pasta sauce, maybe 4-5 tablespoons.
- Hard cheese! Soft cheeses work well too in my experience. A quarter cup. Feel free to skip the cheese if you like and add a little nutritional yeast instead. I’ve heard sun dried tomatoes can add a little extra something to a dairy free pesto.
- Salt and Pepper. To taste.
- Optional: Lemon juice. A squeeze of lemon if you like, or perhaps a lemony wild plant such a sorrel?!
- Optional: a handful of washed: violet leaves, chickweed, sorrel, garlic mustard, baby cilantro or dill, or any of the wild edible greens we discussed above.
Pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle, hence the name, but the next best thing is a food processor. And the next best thing after that, which is what I’m working with, is a blender!
First, you will want to blanch your nettles. Do this by bringing a pot of water to a boil and then adding your nettles and stirring while they are in their boiling for 2 minutes. Use tongs to remove the nettles after two minutes and place them in a bowl of very cold water for a moment to stop the cooking process and help them retain their color and flavor. Quickly remove from the cold water and place in the blender.
Wash any additional greens you will be adding to your pesto.
Combine the blanched Nettles with all of the other ingredients in the blender.
Blend, but leave a little texture.