Wild and free! Beneath your feet, in gardens, reserves, along waterways and roads, you will find a whole world of wild edible leafy greens. What better way to celebrate all this spring goodness than with fresh pesto?
Types of greens you might find
For the pesto in this post, I used wild fennel and watercress. Both foraged on walks around the local rivulet.
Other edible “weeds” you might find in spring include stinging nettle, watercress, rocket, wood sorrel, sow thistle, ribwort/plantain, mallow, pig face, fat hen, chickweed and Warrigal greens. The list is almost endless and the region where you live will have its own selection.
Know what greens you are picking
You do need to be cautious. Be 100% sure of what you are picking. You do not want to poison yourself inadvertently … yes, seriously.
I keep a couple of foraging books in a cloth tote bag in my car glove box. Also a pair of chicken shears that pull apart, they can be used as knives. Super handy, more versatile and lighter than secateurs.
A couple of good books for the glove box are The Weed Foragers Handbook: A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia by Adam Grubb and Annie Rowland and The Wonderous World of Weeds by Pat Collins.
A quick internet search will help you find resources that are specific to your region. I highly recommend referencing full-colour photographs and line drawings. After a season or two, you should be able to quickly identify the most common edible greens in your area.
Self-education and education of others are at the core of respectful foraging.
Waste not, want not
California based forager extraordinaire Pascal Baudar’s recent rant on his Instagram feed caught my attention. He has a few things to say on wild greens as a form of food waste. His observations apply globally:
“Locally the most common food waste may be wild edibles. In Spring, our local hills are completely covered with different types of mustards, mallow, wild radish, chickweed … probably hundred of tons of edibles leaves, roots, seeds and flowers.
Some are crops in different countries but here…I estimate that we probably have over 100 “non-native” wild edibles that we either spray with chemicals or uproot then throw away. Meanwhile we have people who can not afford organic food in Los Angeles – heck, some can not even afford food. Food waste may be a trendy term but nobody is looking at the obvious. We are surrounded by it!”
Food for thought, literally!
OK, this is not a traditional pesto, it would probably make a nonna purse her lips. Even so, wild green pestos are great at capturing the flavours of spring and adding a nutritional punch to your day.
You need a LOT of leafy greens to make a small phytonutrient-dense jar of pesto. A little goes a long way, pesto showcases some of the beautiful peppery and aromatic greens.
Peppery greens you might find are rocket, watercress and nasturtium. More aromatic greens include fennel and other traditional culinary herbs. Peppery and aromatic greens are great to mix in with more bland greens such as chickweed and mallows or bitter greens such as dandelion.
How can you use it?
Back to the pesto, it is so versatile:
- a spread or a dip
- in dressings and marinades
- a garnish for soups and stews
- on pizza or baked into sourdough bread
- tossed through veggies, seafood and chicken
I am sure you are going to come up with a few uses of your own. Share them in the comments at the end of the post. I am always looking for new ideas too!
Spring into winter
Make hay while the sun shines … fragrant herbs are so abundant in spring, make a stash of pesto and preserve it for winter.
The easiest way is by freezing the pesto in ice cube trays or silicone muffin trays. When frozen, release the cubes and store them in a container in your freezer. There they will sit until the colder months, ready to add to soups, stews, baking and other winter meals.
Wild Greens Spring Pesto Recipe
3 cups of spring greens, not too tightly packed
60mL extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup of nuts and or seeds of your choice (I love almonds and macadamias)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan (optional)
- Place greens and nuts/seeds in a food processor. Pulse several times. Scrape down sides of the bowl with a spatula.
- Add garlic and parmesan to bowl. Pulse several times and then scrape down the bowl.
- Restart food processor and add the olive oil in a steady stream while it is going. When the pesto is at a consistency you like stop the machine.
- You can add more oil if needed.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Use a spatula to transfer to a clean jar, secure cap and rergierate.
- Keep your pesto green and fresh by adding a thin layer of olive oil to the top before refrigerating.
- Refrigerate for up to a week or freeze into cubes for future use.
This recipe is a guide only, experiment with the greens and proportions of the other ingredients until you find the combinations you love.
Tip from me: remember to write your own recipes down, it is so easy to forget before the next spring.
Enjoy your wild greens spring pesto!