Stinging Nettle Pesto

May 12, 2015(updated on December 18, 2023)

Whether you foraged them or you get them at your local farmers market, turn the stinging nettles of early spring into a batch of stinging nettle pesto.

Philly Food Works Share

Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of different CSA shares. Last year, I had to sit the CSA thing out entirely because I just wasn’t home enough. This year, I’ve partnered up with Philly Foodworks, for a series of blog posts on how I approach a CSA share. The goal is to share recipes for preserves as well as salads, spreads, and other goodies to help you make the most of what’s in your weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly box.

stinging nettles for stinging nettle pesto

Once a month, they’ll be dropping off one of their small Farmer’s Choice/Share boxes on my doorstep. When it’s in my hands, I’ll document and then share the ways I cooked, preserved, and prolonged the various bits of produce.

blanched nettles for stinging nettle pesto

The first box contained kale rapini, stinging nettles, a head of butter lettuce, 3/4 pound of fat asparagus spears, Swiss chard, a bundle of arugula, a slender bunch of ramps, and a pound of red potatoes. I’ve made several things so far, but right now, want to talk about the stinging nettles.

toasting walnuts

Stinging nettles grow wild in the springtime and are typically foraged rather than cultivated. They have a taste similar to spinach and are bursting with good things, including vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, and calcium. They can cause a topical rash (hence the stinging) when touched raw with bare skin, so if you do forage them, you want to wear gloves.

If you end up with a big bag of them like I did, the best approach is to bring a large pot of water to a boil and then upend the bag of nettles right into the pot. Cooked for 2 to 3 minutes, they’ll lose their sting and become a possible ingredient for all manner of dishes.

stinging nettle pesto in a food processor bowl

My freezer stash of pesto has dwindled over the last few months, so it seemed best to transform these nettles into stinging nettle pesto to start replenishing the stores. Once my nettles had spent the requisite time in the boiling water, I strained them into a colander and rinsed them with cold water. That made it possible to pick through and remove the tougher stems and any twigs that came along with the nettles. Finally, I gave them a good, hard squeeze, in order to force as much of the cooking water out as possible.

finished stinging nettle pesto

They went into a food processor with 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, 3 crushed garlic cloves, a generous pinch of salt, and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. I pulsed to help combine the ingredients and then ran the motor while streaming in 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil. I stirred, tasted, added a bit more salt and a few turns of a pepper grinder, and processed for another 10 to 15 seconds (I like a silky pesto).

Once it was done, I smeared a little on a piece of toast for a snack and then packed the rest into little mason jars. The total yield was just under 2 cups. I topped the jars with a thin layer of olive oil (to keep the air out), screwed on old lids and rings (this is where you can reuse lids that have been through the canner), and stashed the jars in the freezer.

I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about the sauteed rapini. It’s a riff on a recipe from Marcella Hazan, so you know it’s good.

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Stinging Nettle Pesto

Servings: 1.5 cups


  • 3 cups fresh nettles
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil


  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add fresh nettles and simmer for two minutes.
  • Drain nettles and pick them over to remove any large stems or twigs. Squeeze the nettles to remove the water.
  • Put the nettles in the bowl of a food processor. Add the walnuts, garlic, salt, lemon juice and zest, and pepper and pulse to incorporate.
  • With the motor running, stream in the olive oil and process until the pesto is silky smooth.
  • The pesto can be used immediately or frozen in small jars for later use. If you do freeze it, cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent freezer burn.

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14 thoughts on "Stinging Nettle Pesto"

  • Oh, the things I learn from you! To me, pesto has always meant basil and I’m just not that big on a basil pesto. This, this sounds amazing! Time to look up all my pesto options.

    1. Elizabeth, I have several pesto recipes in Preserving by the Pint that aren’t basil-based and are seriously delicious.

  • This sounds great and I love new pesto options. I’m about 30 mins outside Philly…. Do you know where I can find some nettles? I’d love to try this!

    1. Amanda, I’m honestly not sure where you’d get them. If you were up for making a drive into the city, I think you could get them at the Fair Food Farmstand at Reading Terminal Market. I’ve also gotten them at local farmers markets.

  • I love stinging nettles! I haven’t made them in a pesto yet but I’ve had stinging nettle pesto that friends have made and it’s *delicious*! I’ve been using big bags of it to make tea which has been great 🙂


  • You actually don’t need to cook nettles before turning them into pesto. They loose their sting when you do one of the following three: cook, crush, or dry. I’ve eaten lots of nettle pesto I’ve made from nettles I’ve picked, and they sting before, but not after being pulverized. Nettles are also marvelous dried and then boiled for a delicious tea.

  • I love nettle pesto. My mom makes it all the time and calls it “nesto.”
    Love it spread on toast.

  • My daughter fell into a bed of stinging nettle once while hiking. It was not a fun day. I can’t imagine using it in cooking. I always learn something new from you. 🙂