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With a little care, you can whip up this beautiful nettle pesto. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

Stinging nettles have certainly earned their name. If you’re a forager of wild food, you’ve likely encountered the nutrient-rich common plant after the first memorable hands-on experience: a prickling irritation that lingers.

Don’t worry. You’ll survive; just remember to wear long pants and gloves the next time you go foraging for the herbaceous flowering plant that grows near marshes or in fields.

Luckily, they are available at Green Thumb Organic Farm in Water Mill and have already been harvested, bagged and refrigerated for the less adventurous home cooks. Nettles arrive in early spring at this local community, family-run farm stand and are sought after by customers in the know. They are fleeting, first-to-arrive greens, and best enjoyed before they go to seed and get too rough and woody to eat.

Foraging isn’t just about the fun of getting into nature and making a giddy discovery (although, of course, if you are interested in foraging, remember to only take what you plan to use; never decimate an entire patch of plants). Wild foods are much more nutritious than the plants we consume most often, with nettles ranking high in that category, rich in calcium and vitamins C and A.

When steamed (cooking nettles remove the stinging chemicals), they resemble the flavor of spinach with a slightly punchier and peppier zing. They also cook down like spinach, best used in sauces, soups, or sautéed as a side dish. Substituting spring nettles for basil in a classic pesto is a delicious alternative that can be tossed into a rustic potato salad with arugula and herbs or folded into a sauce with a clingy pasta like rotini.

Since making dinner shouldn’t involve taking Benadryl, heed these tips to avoid the histamine-injected sharp hairs on the underside of the deceivingly dainty heart-shaped leaves:

  • Wear gloves and pants to harvest the nettles you find while hiking. “You don’t want to walk out in that field in shorts,” warns Diana Conklin, who works at Green Thumb and is familiar with the stinging yet delicious tall, green plant.
  • Wear gloves when removing the leaves from the stems.
  • Use tongs when placing nettles into a steamer basket.

Adding a handful of peppery arugula into the mix adds depth to the pesto and complements the flavor of the nettles.

Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are a reasonably priced alternative to pine nuts and add an earthy bite.

Pair this earthy, spring-centric pesto dining with a glass of sustainable wine, like the 2022 Floral Terranes Chardonnay, a single-vineyard, small production, skin-contact white made by garage winemakers from Roslyn (seriously!) who sourced these grapes from North Fork producer Mattebella Vineyards. You deserve it after risking your life for a meal.

Spring nettle pesto

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes


  • 3 cups fresh nettle leaves, steamed, plunged in an ice bath and squeezed of all liquid
  • 4 tbsp pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, unsalted
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan or locatelli cheese


  • In a hot sauté pan over medium heat, toast the nuts or seeds for about one minute being careful not to burn. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • With garden or kitchen gloves, remove the nettle leaves from stems.
  • Bring 1 to 2 inches of water to a boil in a large sauce pan fitted with a metal steamer basket. Drop the nettles into the basket with tongs, cover and steam for 5 minutes. Remove the steamed nettles and place in a bowl of ice water.
  • After the nettles have cooled, remove by the handful and squeeze out the excess water in a dish towel.
  • In a food processor, blitz the nuts and garlic with a tablespoon of olive oil until smooth.
  • Add the nettles and lemon juice, blitz thoroughly (optionally you can also add a handful of arugula leaves for a peppery version).
  • With the blender or food processor running, slowly pour in the remaining olive oil until you reach your desired consistency.
  • Use immediately, refrigerate or freeze.