Fermented Nettle Pesto


Ingredients for Pesto

Each year I look forward to the nettles so that I can make a gallon of fermented nettle kraut. This year I wanted to try something different. So, off we headed to the creek with snips and a basket, wearing long sleeves and good gloves.

Our creeks in Western Oregon are choked with Himalayan Blackberries, as are the fence lines and fields; in fact these canes even swallow abandoned buildings. A few years ago 1.7 miles of neighbors along Thompson Creek cooperated and agreed to an ambitious riparian restoration project. The first part of this rehabilitation was to simply cut down the blackberries. It was fascinating to see the land reveal itself under the bramble. An area below our house exposed a few rusted-out early twentieth century car bodies and a wonderful patch of nettles. I was thrilled especially since I’ve attempted and failed a few times at seeding my own wild nettle patch by planting nursery-grown plants strategically along the creek.

I divided the harvest into three piles—one for dinner, one for nettle kimchi, and one for a pure nettle ferment. I wanted to see if I could make a fermented nettle pesto. I chopped and salted the pure nettle ferment; 8 ounces of leaves fit perfectly in a half-pint jar. While dark-leafy greens usually make dark-leafy brine this nettle brine was enchanting, in a fairytale cauldron’s brew type of way, the green had an opaque depth that I haven’t seen before. I put this on the counter to ferment. I submerged the next bundle for the kimchi in a salt-water brine to soak overnight. We ate the rest.

I monitored the ferments for air pockets and then checked both ferments after a week for acidity and flavor. The kimchi was developing. The pure nettle hadn’t changed a bit. I checked again a week later; the kimchi was ready and amazing. The pure nettle kraut still had not changed; it was not fermented (pH still where it started) but it wasn’t bad either, no mold, no yeast—it was exactly as it had been on day one. I thought it strange but kept letting it ferment. On the third week the pH was at 4.7—very close to the ideal of 4.6 or lower. There was also a huge shift visually. The deep chlorophyll colored brine was rust colored. The same color that basil and other dark green ferments turn.

I tried again but this time also made a small batch using a couple of tablespoons of fermented sauerkraut brine. Interestingly, the plain batch without the added brine again fermented after a very long wait. My humble theory is that nettles on their own don’t contain as much inherent lactic-acid bacteria (LAB) as most other vegetables. The kimchi fermented at the usual rate because the added ingredients had more of the needed LAB, as did the batch with brine.

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