Nettles Pesto

A giant stinging nettles bush climbs up the side of the little red barn in my backyard.  Although we’ve been in this house for 9 years, it’s taken me half that time to pay any mind to it.

The bush literally caught up with the boys first; they complained that it “bit” them whenever a 3-way collision of plant, child and a baseball occurred.  Back in those days, with 2 little ones, and always in a rush to clean something, cook something, or get somewhere, I would file this semi-monthly complaint along with all the others.  Finally, I figured out what this mysterious plant was, and that while I needed to keep the boys away from it, it might be advantageous to get myself closer.

Moving to the present, I have entered into a culinary relationship with the nettles plant in my backyard.  A wild edible, in my opinion, nettles is both superfood and superherb.  Nettle leaf is thought to be anti-inflammatory, helpful with seasonal allergies and calming to the nervous system.  Nettle root is regarded in herbalist circles as a natural aromatase inhibitor, meaning that it has been shown to prevent the “good” hormones from turning into “bad” hormones, that is, the type of bad hormones that cause cancer and other dis-ease.

This raw Nettles Pesto does taste very healthy, however, I couldn’t stop eating it and neither could my tasters. This naturally gluten free pesto has a slightly astringent taste, the strong flavor of basil and a nice lemony tang to it. If you decide to find yourself a nettles plant and make it, I hope you’ll stop back by to let me know your impression.

Nettles Pesto

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  • 2 cups stinging nettles leaves, packed
  • 1 cup basil leaves, packed
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped


  • Place nettles leaves, basil, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic in a food processor
  • Pulse ingredients until almost smooth
  • Serve on cucumbers, yellow peppers, or crackers
Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 5 mins
Tried this recipe?Mention @elanaspantry or tag #elanaspantry!

According to Wikipedia:

Stinging nettle has a flavor similar to spinach when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. In its peak season, stinging nettle contains up to 25% protein, dry weight, which is high for a leafy green vegetable. The young leaves are edible. Nettles can be used in a variety of recipes, such as pesto. Nettle soup is a common use of the plant, particularly in Northern and Eastern Europe.

Be advised, if you pick stinging nettles, you may want to wear gloves.  When lightly touched, the leaves cause a mild rash.  When I picked the nettles for this pesto yesterday, I again used my bare hands.  My 12 year old wore gardening gloves and was even stung once through them.  It is thought that deliberately stinging oneself with the nettles plant is a quick, easy, and free way to relieve symptomatic arthritic pain.

Last year, I did a little experiment and let the nettles sting me to see if it would heal any of my remaining symptoms from this diagnosis.  Unfortunately, I can only report that the results of this investigation were inconclusive.


35 responses to “Nettles Pesto”

  1. I prefer wood nettles, taste better. I collect them with a pail and scissors, but wear long pants and boots for protection – no gloves because I don’t touch them. (1) Yes, they do help arthritis – one year my only arthritis spot was hurting a lot and I rubbed the nettles on it repeatedly, it got better. (2) I’m so happy to see another recipe that doesn’t cook the nettles for pesto. I already did this so I know they won’t sting, but I just read 4 recipes that all cooked the nettles first, which seems like a drag. Obviously, the pesto didn’t bite even though I didn’t cook the nettles.

  2. For all those who want to know how the stinging goes away:

    To my knowledge, the hollow “hairs” that sting contain a mixture of acids (most commonly formic acid, but others have been implicated). When you crush the plant, you crush this hair and release the acid which is diluted and neutralized in the crushed plant juice. Nettles are safe to handle and eat after the hairs have been crushed.

  3. I made this with my nettles and substituted the basil with arugula. I think I will boil the nettles first next time. They were a little tough, and I’m not convinced I got all the sting out with just putting them in the food processor raw. This would probably be better earlier in the spring too, even though I only used the young tops. I think I’ll stick with arugula pesto this time of year.

  4. I have had a hard time finding wild nettles around Boulder, so I decided to just grow it in my garden. I found some nettle starts in the farmers market three years ago, and now I have a flourishing patch! I didn’t know you could eat them raw without the sting effect, but crushing them makes sense. I always boil the young leaves for a few minutes and put them in recipes. I’ll have to try this! I too would like to hear about the mechanism of the sting going away by putting them in a food processor.

  5. As a child I spent much of my youth on my aunt & uncle’s farm in Devon, England. Singing nettle was everywhere. Dang that stuff hurt when touched. Amazing that you fearlessly grab onto it. I have never eaten it, interesting that it is not even cooked. We love pesto over here – perhaps we should give this a whirl :) xo

  6. Looks delicious Elana, we have a huge patch of stinging nettles in our garden, it comes up every year and grows so profusely, it never disappoints us. We also add nettles to our green smoothies, they are so delicious and nutritious.

    • Yes, and you can also juice nettles, especially young ones which have more juice in them. Mix it with apple juice, tastes fine and doesn’t bite.

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