Nettle Pesto!

Nothing says, “See ya, winter!” like harvesting nettles in the early spring for food and medicine. After a long dark winter, harvesting nettles is a very welcome treat. For me, the abundance of chlorophyll, antioxidants, macro and micro nutrients, and other healing constituents in nettles provides the quintessential shot of life that is so badly needed.

Not only are nettles incredibly nutrient rich, especially in iron, selenium, niacin, zinc, and the nerve feeding, muscle relaxing trifecta of calcium/magnesium/potassium, but they also contain a wealth of cancer preventive antioxidants such as kaempferol, an antihistamine, anti-asthmatic, vasodilator, respiratory stimulant, and anti-inflammatory properties of the cinnamic acid, scopoletin, ascorbic acid, chlorogenic acid, and adenosine.

Nettle pesto can be eaten by the spoonful for quick energy, and for fast sinus congestion relief. Whenever my sinuses are acting up due to weather, living in the city, dust in the house, I take a container of nettle pesto out of the freezer, defrost it in cool water, and eat a couple of spoonfuls as is. Works a charm every time and I get the added bonus of extra energy!

Mentioning antioxidants ~ some antioxidants are damaged and/or destroyed with high heat and drying. Many nettle pesto recipes call for blanching the nettles first to “remove the sting.” Please don’t do that.

The hollow hairs, aka trichomes, are present on the leaves and stems of the nettles. When we brush up against the nettle, the tips break off, releasing the neurotransmitters (messengers) histamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin, along with formic, tartaric and oxalic acids.

The neurotransmitters cause inflammation and pain, while the acids are responsible for extended pain duration. The sting of a nettle can last hours to days. Nothing to fear!

Urtication is the application of nettles to a part of the body that may be experiencing chronic pain. This stimulates blood flow to the area, bringing nutrients and immune responses in and metabolites out, bringing about a natural release of the pain.

The components in the hollow hairs that cause the sting of nettles are completely neutralized with the food processor. Think about it: the neurotransmitters and acids in the hairs are the plant’s defense response to being just so tasty. The will to survive and thrive is not just an animal/human instinct. The plants want to have a full life as well!

Inside nettles is the very antidote to the acid – base aesculetin and scopoletin, natural basic lactones that also have anti-asthmatic and anti-inflammatory actions! The best first aid thing to do when stung by nettles is to take a couple leaves, rub them between your thumb and forefinger until super juicy, and apply to the sting. Viola – neutralized!

Nettle Pesto Recipe

4 cups fresh nettle tops – roughly chopped
2/3 – 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup nuts of your choice –  almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, macadamias, pecans, cashews, etc. Not a fan of or allergic to nuts? Pine nuts are actually seeds. Sesame seeds give the pesto a cool flavor.
2 – 6 cloves garlic according to taste
1/2 cup romano or parmesan cheese. An alternative is to add 1/2 cup nutritional yeast instead of cheese for our non dairy friends.

Put all ingredients in a food processor and process on high until creamy, making sure all the nettles are completely incorporated.

That’s it! Can it get any easier? I don’t think so. What an incredibly fantastic taste! Not only is it good on the traditional pasta, but the pesto makes a wonderful spread on toast or crackers, on baked potatoes, on a BLT, on pizza –  the choices are endless. Bring it to your next potluck; you’ll be super impressive and your social anxiety will disappear. It’s that good!


Nettle pesto freezes well, and keeps for up to 6 months! Zippy! Incidentally, you can use any edible wild greens to make pesto. Think dandelion greens, chickweed, wild mustard.



Suzanne Tabert

Suzanne "Queen Bee" Tabert

Suzanne Tabert, bioregional herbalist, is director of herbal education and herbal mentor at the Cedar Mountain Herb School. An herbal medicine instructor for 30 years, Suzanne teaches with great passion and excitement, bringing her wealth of herbal knowledge to students in an engaging and vibrant manner. She is the primary instructor at CMHS and an adjunct faculty at Bastyr University. Taking students to wild places and giving them tools to engage and connect with flora, fauna, and the exquisite beauty of nature is the icing on the cake of life, and one way that Suzanne is making a difference in the world, one person, one group at a time. She is currently writing a wildcrafting book that will be able to be utilized by people of all walks of life who wish to take their health back into their own hands. Cedar Mountain Herb School is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, Partnership in Education with United Plant Savers, and the American Herb Association.