Wild Weeds Pesto

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It is definitely Spring and the weeds are growing! All around our house the bright, new green growth is pushing up out of the earth higher and higher each day, and I couldn’t be happier. I greet the plants I know, and scratch my head at the ones I don’t, hoping to learn their names soon.

There is something about the soothing power of plants that has comforted me like nothing else since I was a child being taken on nature walks with my mother. She would point out the miner’s lettuce to eat, and the chickweed. I can almost still taste the cool, watery leaves on my four year old tongue as a tangible, physical memory. I do believe that these deep bodily memories from a young child have stayed pressed within my psyche all these years, and yet, unlike the dry pressings of flowers and stems that I also collected between the pages of a cloth-bound journal, plant and herb knowledge stays ever-alive and continually refreshed, tempered by the eloquence and simplicity of changing seasons and Nature’s way. There are always plants all around us, common “weeds” and all variety of trees and grasses and flowers. It is the wild plants that I love best, perhaps because their placement and existence has not been directed or planned or controlled by humans (usually); they grow in their own way, and we are only visitors in their “gardens.”

So take some time to look around you. If you are lucky enough to live by open meadows or fields (hopefully unsprayed), by a body of water, or even by a road, learn to identify the plants around you and if they can be eaten and what types of qualities they possess. Right now the cleavers are growing high and reaching towards the sky with their bright green arms all around me in Northern California. Chickweed has already flowered, and I’ve seen nettles on the sides of the roads, ready to be picked. Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) is growing in clumps and scatterings, its shiny, lily pad-like leaves becoming thick and glossy and heavy with watery juice. Plantain (Plantago major) is abundant and can be seen all around our yard and on the sides of roads, its deeply lined, emerald green leaves growing gracefully into sharp points like striped green swords. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) were more common up north in Washington than down here in California, but I have seen several plants growing in our yard with their jagged toothed leaves and bright golden flowers–they are a welcome sight to me any day! (I am equally horrified when I see someone spraying poisons all over the living earth and wild weeds, and I recoil inside with a feeling of deep grief, anger and helplessness at such a lack of understanding and appreciation for our plant friends.)

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Today I made pesto from a mix of cleavers and a small handful of plantain leaves. I think it would have tasted better with chickweed and cleavers, but all the chickweed around here has disappeared (I began this post a few weeks ago now and so much has changed already!). So you can really make a pesto from any edible wild or cultivated greens. I love pesto and can eat it the way others might eat hummus or chocolate pudding–with a spoon, and lots of it! I can easily finish a whole bowl of pesto by itself like a meal–yum!

Now is also the time for Spring cleaning, inside and out. The wild herbs, or “weeds,” that are growing now all around us have nourishing and cleansing properties for our minds and bodies. For instance, cleavers (Galium aparine) have been noted to be cleansing for the lymph system (notice how they look like the lymph system next time you see them!), as well as for the kidneys and urinary tract. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a potent liver tonic, and chickweed (Stellaria media) is a blood purifier with healing properties for the skin and heart. Nettles (Urtica dioica) are chock-full of good minerals and nourishing attributes. Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is good for the skin and high in potassium.  There is so much to learn about the lovely green plants, but for now, let us eat!

Wild Weeds Pesto

• About 2 cups of packed greens, any combination (cleavers, chickweed, plantain leaves, dandelion leaves, nettles, etc. or a combination of wild weeds with cultivated greens such as basil, parsley or cilantro)

• 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, preferably soaked for about 6 hours

• 2 garlic cloves

• 1/2 to 2/3 cup olive oil

• Sea salt and pepper to taste

• Optional: 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast OR 1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

• also optional: 1 tablespoon lemon juice and/or ume plum vinegar

Spices and other additions, if desired (some ideas: cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry blend, a dash of tamari, a spoonful of miso or tahini, fresh ginger, etc.)

Throw everything into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  This could even be made in a small Magic Bullet (so convenient!).

Use over grilled chicken or fish, watered down as a salad dressing, as a dip with veggies and crackers, spread over toast with sardines or other savory additions, as a sandwich spread, and of course mixed with your favorite pasta!  Or you could eat it straight off a spoon the way I do… The possibilities are endless.  Best of all, you are getting a big does of fresh greens and healthy olive oil, with immune-boosting raw garlic, zinc-rich pumpkin seeds and any other good spices you add in.  You can also freeze this in ice cube size portions to use when you need some pesto and the wild weeds are long-gone…

And one more variation that really turns this into a meal worth savoring: add in a can of sardines or anchovies with olive oil (and just use less added olive oil) for an EFA (essential fatty acid) and protein rich spread that tastes great with toast or by itself!  I just made this today by adding some smoked bristling sardines to my day-old pesto taken from the fridge, blended up together, and ate it with a toasted rice flour tortilla that I broke into pieces and used in lieu of utensils, like edible spoons.  It was delicious!

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