From Ordinary to Extraordinary – Foraged Pesto

foraged pesto in mortar
Foraged pesto in mortar

Pesto is a great way to add excitement to an ordinary meal and get some health benefits too. Forget the standard basil pesto though if you want to grow your own. Apart from a brief window of opportunity in the middle of summer when basil grows well, it is a temperamental plant that sulks at the smallest hint of cold. Then there is the price of the traditional pine nuts, which makes this not an everyday option.

The good news is that pesto can be made from a huge range of easily available ingredients out of your very own garden. Even better they are full of nutrients, and a great way to get the health benefits of a range of greens especially in winter and early spring when pickings are slim…a little bit goes a long way.

Foraged pesto is an easy and exciting way to turn a seemingly ordinary meal into something to tickle your taste buds. Try popping a dollop of pesto on top of your next bowl of soup or casserole, or use it to dress mashed potatoes. Not only will the pesto add a flavour pop to your next meal it also adds a good dose of vitamins and minerals from all those lovely fresh ingredients.

You can still stir this foraged pesto through the traditional bowl of pasta for a quick and tasty meal or have it with your next cheese and crackers, but there are so many other uses. Try it on toast as a spread with avacado and tomato. Mix with cream cheese and use on sandwiches next time you need a plate for an event. You can also add extra olive oil to the foraged pesto to make a dressing for your next salad.

The variations are endless for this foraged pesto. The pesto in this photo was made predominately with rocket, and sunflower seeds. I also added a couple of leaves of puha and cress. Adding a bit of mint is particularly good as a salad dressing. Walnuts go well with some of the stronger flavours such as rocket and parsley. Experiment with what’s in your garden, I would love to hear from you.

A note about mortar and pestles:

Mortar and pestles are one of those traditional pieces of kitchen equipment I wouldn’t be without. Mine was bought over 30 years ago and will get many more years of use yet. Of course you could use a good blender or food processor for this recipe, but there are several advantages to the mortar and pestle. The mortar and pestle give a creamier consistency to your pesto, than any blender I have tried. They are also much easier to clean and who wants more cleaning! You can also serve your pesto in the mortar directly to the table, as they are attractive in their own right (saving even more cleaning). There is also something very therapeutic about the traditional grinding and pounding action, that our ancestors have been using to prepare food since the Stone Age. Plus, they never break down.

foraged pesto greens at bee haven gardens

Foraged Pesto

Forage greens to make pesto all year round and pep up your meals.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Course condiments
Servings 4


  • 1-2 cups Fresh foraged greens e.g. rocket, parsley, kale, NZ spinach, coriander, chickweed, puha, dandelion leaves, plantain
  • 1/2 cup Nuts or seeds of your choice e.g. walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds
  • 1 clove Garlic coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp Lemon or lime juice
  • 1 pinch Salt
  • 3 tbsp Olive oil plus extra for a runnier consistency


  • Rinse if necessary your collected greens and remove any thick stalks.
  • Coarsely chop the greens.
  • Place nuts and/or seeds of choice in a mortar and pestle, add salt, lemon juice, chopped garlic, and half the greens.
  • Use the pestle to grind and pound this mix till a paste is formed, gradually adding the rest of the greens.
  • Gradually add the olive oil till the pesto is of the consistency you require.
  • Pesto is best served fresh, but can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days.
Keyword fresh foraged pesto