nettles pesto

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.

Print Recipe
Nettles Pesto
  • 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
  1. Place nettles leaves, basil, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic in a food processor
  2. Pulse ingredients until almost smooth
  3. Serve on cucumbers, yellow peppers, or crackers

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.


  1. shodospring says

    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. Laura says

    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. Claire says

    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. Claire says

    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. says

    Looks a bit like spinach too.
    As there is nettles in my backyard as well I’ll give it a try. Thanks for the pesto recipe!

  6. says

    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

  7. says

    Wow these look so tasty! Very bright green, what a wonderful way to eat nettle pesto. I have to find a good spot to forage nettle still!

  8. jo says

    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.

  9. says

    Like Polly, I was also wondering what makes them not sting when you eat them? We have loads of nettles just outside our garden, so I’ll have to try this.

  10. Maria says

    Well, I learned something today! My son takes a nettle leaf supplement to combat his seasonal allergies (it works very well), but I had no idea you could make pesto with it!

  11. says

    Over the last few years I have become accustomed to the nettle’s sting and I can pick them ungloved. I do find it somewhat beneficial for my stiff, slightly arthritic right hand. This pesto sounds delish! I bet it would be excellent for gnocchi. I usually just sauté nettles with garlic and serve with balsamic or lemon juice. Creamy nettle soup is good but tastes a little “scallopy” so I have to be in the mood. I also dry a lot throughout the summer (I have a couple of large patches) to keep on hand as an addition to soups and broths or for tea. I usually mix it with anise hyssop and spearmint for tea.

  12. Carrie in Boulder says

    Just wondering if anyone knows where to find nettles growing in boulder, co… I miss them…

  13. vera says

    I have tried this:
    if you are stung by a nettle take a leaf and crumple it a gloved hand is best and rub leaf on affected area to help with the sting.

    I work out of door with teen in the summer


  14. says

    I have many plants on my little farm that we call stinging nettles because they too “bite”. Could you post a picture of a leaf so that I’ll know I won’t be eating something poisonous.
    Thanks so much.

  15. says

    I’ve been really curious about the nettles in my back yard. I think it’s awesome you tried this! I am fascinated by the idea of eating wild, but I’ve been too chicken to “harvest” anything yet. You’ve inspired me…I think I’ll finally take the plunge!

  16. Katie says

    I’ve read that if you grab them quickly you crush the little hairs before they really sting you; I’ve yet to try this though. I’ve always liked the idea of eating things that have been foods since antiquity, but now, for some reason, are no longer considered “food”.

    I do have a question though that I hope someone can help me with. I was really excited about dandelion greens this year and harvested a bunch from my garden. I liked them well enough to eat them again, but my husband, baby and sister all refused complaining they were too bitter. Is there a good way to combat this? I steamed them lightly in olive oil.

    • Melissa says

      We always eat them raw in a salad with hot bacon dressing. They are very bitter, but the slightly sweet dressing cuts that out.

    • says

      If you blanch them first in boiling water, then saute with a little garlic, lemon, and olive oil, this cuts down on the bitterness.

    • robin says

      My Brother is a huge fan of dandelions and he swears that if you put a tea bag in boiling water and blanch them for a minute it will take away the bitter. I have found that the younger leaves are usually less bitter, but I am a bigger fan of back yard plantain green. You can cut and paste this to your browser bar if you want to see a picture with a description. It is mild and you can eat the whole plant just like you can with the dandelion. I like to pull the smaller spring leaves of both of them up with the violets that grow in my garden and mix them up in a nice light rice wine vinaigrette. Yum-Yum!

  17. deborah says

    If stung by a stinging nettle you can smooth your skin by crushing the leaves of a bleeding heart plant against the area. The stinging leaves right away.

  18. says

    Is this the same plant that was the bane of Girl Scout camp? We called it ‘bull nettle’. The big ones were about 3 feet tall and while the stinging was bad the residual itching was worse. I was the most popular kid in our unit because Mom sent me to camp with TWO tubes of Caladryl paste which I liberally glopped on anyone who asked.

  19. donna says

    i just found someone selling the plants on ebay…it would be a nice addition to my rather large herb garden..i used to take the dry capsules of this for allergies but it would be so much better to have my own plant…thanks for giving me an idea elana ;-)

  20. AnnMarie Deis says

    This is fascinating! I am going to now do a search for a plant for my backyard. I heard a similar story about bee stings. There is a local beekeeper who allows guests to walk his property and receive “stings” from bees in an effort to get a natural shot of adrenalin. INTERESTING plant and recipe!!!

  21. says

    I’ve never heard of stinging nettles being used in a recipe, just in supplements occasionally. We certainly have plenty of it in Boulder (as your backyard testifies), so I think I won’t have much trouble tracking some down ;) Thanks for sharing the health benefits!

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