Wild and free! Beneath your feet – in gardens, reserves, along waterways and roads, you will find an entire 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
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 of wild greens is almost endless, and the region where you live will have its selection. They are all part of your edible “terroir”.
For the pesto in this post, I used wild fennel and watercress, foraged on walks around our local rivulet. It is essential you forage with safety and respect, you will find a set of foraging guidelines here.
Know what greens you are picking
Be 100% sure of what you are picking. You could poison yourself inadvertently … yes, seriously.
I keep several foraging books in a cloth tote bag in my car glove box. A handy source of both photos and line drawings, to be sure of what I am picking.
If you live in Australia, a couple of good books you might want to have on hand are:
- The Weed Foragers Handbook: A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia by Adam Grubb and Annie Rowland
- The Wondrous World of Weeds by Pat Collins
A quick internet search will help you find resources that are specific to your region. After a few seasons, you should be able to identify the most common edible greens in your area.
Understanding the legality of foraging in your area is also essential. Australians can find more info here.
- Plant identification manuals.
- Chicken shears – super handy and more versatile than secateurs. You can use them to carefully snip what you need from a plant without damaging it. You can also dismantle shears to use as knives.
- Gloves – protection for wrangling thorny plants and stinging nettle.
- Produce bags and food grade buckets – buckets are great for berries, fruits and seaweed (anything that may release liquid).
Waste not, want not
California based forager Pascal Baudar has a few things to say on wild greens as a form of food waste. In an Instagram post he points out:
“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!
This recipe is not a traditional pesto ;-). It would make a nonna roll her eyes and purse her lips. Even so, wild green pestos are great at capturing the flavours of spring and adding a punch of nutrition 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. This pesto showcases the beautiful peppery and aromatic greens of spring.
When combining herbs be careful to balance the flavours of the plants. Taste each one separately. You will want to balance bitter greens such as dandelion with more bland herbs such as chickweed and mallow.
You can also add to the flavour profile with peppery greens such as rocket, nasturtium and watercress. Top it off with the highly aromatic greens such as fennel and mugwort.
How can you use wild green pesto?
- 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 will come up with a few uses of your own. Please 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, nutrient-dense 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.
You will have a stash for the colder months, ready to add to soups, stews, baking and other winter meals. There is nothing like a bright, fresh taste of spring in the middle of winter!
Enjoy your wild greens spring pesto!
- 3 cups of spring greens (not too tightly packed to avoid bruising)
- 60mL extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/4 cup of nuts and or seeds of your choice (I love almonds and macadamias)
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan or hard vegetable-based "cheese" (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place greens and nuts/seeds in a food processor. Pulse several times. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
- Add garlic and parmesan to a bowl. Pulse several times and then scrape down the bowl.
- Restart food processor and add the olive oil in a steady stream. 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 refrigerate.
- 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 to find the combinations you love.
Super tip: remember to write your recipes down, it is so easy to forget before the next spring (I learned the hard way ... there was that one pesto, I have never been able to replicate ... it was heaven ... *sigh*).