Wild perennial pesto
The only crop that was ready to be harvested this week in my early spring garden was one I had nothing to do with. When I went out to the garden to check on my sugar-snap peas (they finally germinated!), imagine my delight when I also discovered a whole bed of chickweed and dead nettle. These delicious and nutritious wild, edible, perennial and ubiquitous greens had taken over a bed of soil that I had not yet planted.
What could be better? They grew on their own, with no help from yours truly. I didn’t have to buy seeds, nurture the transplants, weed, feed or fret about this crop. It just took care of itself, and in so doing, it is taking great care of me, too.
So I thanked Mother Nature and grabbed up several fistfuls to eat and cook with. I learned about this “manna” from heaven a couple of years ago when I went for a walk with the amazing herbalist and wild foods enthusiast Kim Calhoun, and later took a class with her at Central Carolina Community College. She showed me some of the weeds growing in our backyards that can easily be used in salads, soups and pesto.
She also told me that wild greens are packed with nutrients — or “goodiments” as she likes to say. Then she shared her recipe for Wild Greens Pesto, which also features garlic, one of the most nutritious cultivated foods we know.
I made my first batch of the season this week and it’s even more delicious than my last batch. It tastes great on sandwiches, pasta, vegetables, seafood, meats, etc. You can keep it in the refrigerator for weeks at a time (if you can manage not to gobble it all at once) and it keeps well in the freezer in individual ice cubes for easy future use.
Planty Kim’s Wild Greens Pesto
3 medium garlic cloves
½ cup walnuts (or pecans, almonds, cashews, pine nuts)
3 cups firmly packed greens (any combo of seasonal wild & cultivated herbs—see list below)
¼-½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon UME plum vinegar (or sea salt to taste)
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (a dairy-free option instead of parmesan cheese)
1. Blend garlic and nuts in food processor until coarsely chopped.
2. Add remainder of ingredients to food processor and blend till desired smoothness. Yields approximately one cup.
3. Eat on crackers, mixed into pasta, smeared on a frittata or fried egg sandwich, spread on rolls or pizza, get creative!
4. Any leftovers will keep in the fridge for a week or more. I like to triple the recipe and freeze some Wild Green Pesto in half pint (8oz.) glass mason jars.
Wild Greens of the NC Piedmont in early Spring (to name a few): chickweed, purple dead nettle, creasy greens/cress, dandelion leaves, plantain leaves, tender yellow dock leaves, wild lettuce leaves, cleavers, wild garlic, self heal, violets,henbit…don’t forget flowers too—dandelion (remove bitter green base), henbit…
Cultivated Greens: parsley, cilantro, nettle, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary, nettle, oregano…
Before you pick something to eat, you should be sure you know what it is. Check online for color photos of these greens, or ask a friend who knows. Also be sure it’s growing in an area that is not polluted by chemical pesticides, herbicides or road runoff. Always wash the greens before consuming them, in case any of our four-legged friends “fertilized” them when we weren’t looking.