Nettle Pistou

Nettles pop up in our yard pretty much any place we leave to grow wild.  Which is fine by me, as nettles are not only very useful in organic gardening, they are also one of pleasures of the spring table.  We save the tender new leaves for recipes, and chop the tough, older stems and leaves for energizing our compost pile of for macerating in rain water for purin.

There are many great ways to cook nettles. I have enjoyed them in a white bean soup with bacon and nettles.  They can take the place of spinach or sorrel in a cream sauce to accompany fish. But my favorite way to cook them is as pistou.

Pistou is the French version of pesto and is usually made with basil and pine nuts. However, I think that the mildly menthol flavor of nettles, paired with walnuts and lemon zest, makes for a milder pistou that goes well with lighter spring flavors.

When harvesting nettles, be sure to wear heavy gloves to avoid getting stung by them.  Once they are blanched, the leaves no longer sting.


Nettle Pistou with walnuts, garlic and lemon


  • About 4 oz young nettle leaves
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 oz aged parmesan, grated
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon zest
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and germ removed
  • Black pepper
  • Salt
  • Piment d’Espelette
  • Olive oil


Pistou is a personal affair. Feel free to adjust amounts to your taste. Makes about 1 cup of pistou.  Pistou does not keep well in the fridge, as it begins to lose its lovely bright color very quickly. However, it freezes well, so make a big batch and freeze in small quantities.


​1) Roughly chop the garlic. Toast and cool the walnuts.

2) Wash the nettle leaves in a lot of cold water, being very careful to avoid their sting.  Blanch in salted boiling water, then shock them in cold water. Squeeze to remove the water.

3) In a food processor, process the walnuts, garlic and lemon zest until finely chopped. Add the mustard, nettle leaves, salt, pepper and piment d’Espelette and process until uniform. With the motor running, slowly add olive oil to achieve a smooth, slightly loose pesto.  Pulse in the grated parmesan. Add lemon juice to taste. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.

4) Serve immediately, or freeze for future use.




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