3 Herb Mamas


on April 21, 2014

There are finally enough wild greens up around my home to start using them in the kitchen in earnest. After attending an American Herbalist Guild sponsored webinar given by herbalist David Winston (“The Worst Weeds Are Your Best Medicine”…loved it!), in which he praised Garlic Mustard pesto so thoroughly that my mouth was watering, I had to go see if I could find enough wild greens to make the season’s first batch of pesto. Although everything is relatively small, most of the plants popping up are mild and tasty. I’m still eating Dandelion raw, hand-to-mouth style. Another week of warm sunny days and I will need to get more creative or simply enjoy the bitter bite this wonderful liver tonic offers.

This “recipe” will be one I use over and over all summer into fall. It freezes well for use through the winter. I really don’t measure anything but I have given approximate measurements below. Pesto is traditionally made with only fresh Basil leaves, as Pistou is made with Parsley.  Neither of these herbs is available to me yet as mine are all still in the tiny seedling stage in my greenhouse. Actually, I did throw in little bits of Parsley, Oregano, and Tarragon from leaves I pinched back off my seedlings but it probably didn’t total even 2 tablespoons among all the other wild greens. I’m sharing photos of some of the wild primary foods (a.k.a. “weeds”) that I gathered, so it forms a bit of an impromptu “Weed Walk” as well.


Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

This plant, like many of the others I use, could be said to put the “pest” is pesto since it is much maligned and hated as an invasive weed. I won’t go into that here but I will say that I purposely planted this “invasive” weed around our home nearly 20 years ago when we built. I planted it all around the woodland edges so that it could naturalize and, while it comes back, I generally only have enough to gather for a few salads and/or a few batches of pesto or other dishes such as quiches or green lasagna. I have also read that that it inhibits the growth of other plants around it. I can only ponder, then, one of its British common names, “Jack-by-the-Hedge,” as well as my own experience of a couple of decades where it seems to continue to grow well in mixed wild communities. (I note 5 different species of plant in the photo above.) I do USE Garlic Mustard frequently so perhaps this is part of the reason it has not proven to be a problem around our home? At any rate, this is the plant I gathered the largest quantity of for our pesto. According to ethno-botanist Ellen Zachos in Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat, “This plant is insanely nutritious, higher in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc than either spinach or kale. It’s also very high in calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.”


These are just two of the thriving mixed communities (also called “wild plant guilds” in permaculture circles) from spots where I originally planted and have gathered for decades. Along with the tender delicious bundles of Garlic Mustard in these two photos I can see Red Clover, Mullein, Ground Ivy, Sheep Sorrel, Cleavers and many seedlings too tiny to identify but I suspect are Lamb’s Quarters.


Chickweed (Stellaria media) peeking around the edges of Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina).

I added the little bits of sweet, mild Chickweed that I could find to the pesto greens. Soon I will be able to gather it by the basket full and it will form the base of all our spring salads. It’s crunchy like Romaine and as sweet and mild as Iceberg…only way more nutritious and delicious.


Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale) and Nettles (Urtica dioica)

I added a fair amount of both of these. I don’t use gloves to gather the (stinging) Nettles but I do take care and stay focused on my task as I pinch back individual leaves and bundles between my thumbnail and index finger. The stinging hairs are easy to spot and avoid so long as you don’t grab by the handful. In any event, I find the “sting” to be mild and fleeting. It is a tingly feeling like when your hand or foot falls asleep. It is gone, in my experience, in about 15-20 minutes with no lasting effects. If you are very bothered by the sting, I have effectively used crushed Jewelweed or Yellowdock leaves as a poultice to remove the sting immediately for others. Why bother with such a plant? It contains 35% of our daily need for vitamin A, 12% for magnesium, 8% of our iron needs, lots of B-vitamins and a whopping 42% of our daily calcium needs in a mere cup. Oh, and it tastes deliciously green. The stingers, by the way are deactivated when cooked, dried or pulverized (as they are for making pesto).

Now, on to the pesto making…


These are the basic ingredients for my not-so-traditional pesto, which I will be making in endless variations all summer. I had about 2 quarts (8 cups) of mixed wild greens along with a little handful of cultivated herbs and greens thinnings from the greenhouse. I only had regular Olive oil on hand, which I use for soap-making, but I generally use extra virgin Olive oil (or EVOO) for pesto, salads, and cooking. I use up to 1 cup of this oil in a batch of pesto. About a half cup each of some sort of nut (Pecans were used in this batch.) and Parmesan cheese. I use whatever type of nut or seed I have and have used everything from pumpkin seeds to walnuts. A couple of cloves of Garlic, to taste.


In the food processor I grind the nuts and Garlic cloves until they are just short of turning into nut butter.


Now I give it a whirl with the addition of the Olive oil. Soupy nut butter!


Then I feed in my washed greens while the food processor is running. I like pesto thick but you can make it as thick or thin as you like. What a verdant, lovely green celebration of spring in the kitchen!


Parmesan cheese is the last thing to go in. I have used nutritional yeast in place of Parmesan for a vegan pesto as well.


Finished Wild & Weedy Pesto!

Kids may like to lick the bowl after mixing up batter for cake but my husband has dibs on the pesto “snickies”. I hand him a couple of pieces of French bread, a pita or some crackers and the food processor container comes back clear. We had some of this batch as a sauce over cheese tortellini along with a salad and some chapati. (Ethnically, this meal was all over the place but gastronomically it was home-sweet-home!)

In a nutshell, that’s my pesto recipe. I do it over and over all summer with whatever herbs and wild greens are available. I often use up to half fresh basil along with wild greens for a slightly more traditional flavor but this recipe is open to endless variations. Use mostly Dill and tangy, lemony wild Sorrel for a perfect fish or poultry sauce. Or try a heavy hand with Tarragon and Marjoram for a French take on sauce. Some ways we enjoy pesto is simply spread on French bread, used in place of tomato based sauce on homemade pizza, as a pasta sauce, in lasagna, stirred into vegetable soup, thinned down for use as a salad dressing, in various cold salads like cous-cous, pasta, or tabouleh. It freezes and thaws beautifully. My kids grew up loving pesto and it was the main way they enjoyed greens. Even when they were not so fond of a plate of steamed kale or spinach, they would gobble this treat up with abandon.

Happy Spring! ~Leenie

3 responses to “WILD & WEEDY “PESTO”

  1. bethreese says:

    Yum! Thank you so much for sharing the recipe, Leenie- we’re going to try it!

  2. Sherryrobin says:

    I will try this Leenie Thank you.

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