Harvesting ingredients for Nettle-Basil Pesto

Here are some of the ingredients I harvested in September for my ultra-local nettle-basil pesto.

The nettles came from the grove in my backyard. The basil came from the garden in the front.

The types of basil I used here are Opal Basil (Ocimum basilicum purpurascens) and Thai Basil (Ocimum Basilicum  var. thyrsiflora). Opal Basil, the dark purple one, is an American cultivar of a traditional Italian basil. It was developed in the 1950s at the University of Connecticut.

Thai Basil (below), the brighter green one, is a group of Asian basil cultivars. They are stronger and more aromatic than Italian basils.

The stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) that I used are below. Even though it’s easiest to find young nettle leaves (ičáȟpe hú) early in the season, I was still able to find some young sideshoots on September’s nettle plants. Younger leaves are ideal for cooking because they are less fibrous.

If you’re wondering about the logistics of eating a stinging plant: the urticating (stinging) hairs on the nettle plant are destroyed by heating them or running through a blender. So you can safely enjoy nettle pesto without worrying about being stung.

I blended all of these leaves together with the standard pesto ingredients, to produce a pesto that is stronger and possibly more nutritious than standard varieties. Kept in a freezer, this pesto can last a long time.

(My friend Luke Black Elk makes a phenomenal nettle pesto that also uses local acorns, but his culinary and inventive abilities far surpass mine.)

 

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