Pesto Prize: Making the Most of Weeds

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. In the same vein, when nature gives you weeds, make pesto.

Garlic Mustard, an invasive weed blooming in April and May, may be a nuisance, but it is also a key ingredient to this tasty, versatile sauce. The original source for this recipe is Monches Farm, although it has been altered slightly by substituting 1/2 of the olive oil with a ripe avocado and a splash of lemon juice.

But first things first.

If you’re going to try this recipe, you need to properly identify the Garlic Mustard weed and be sure that is hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals. This National Park Service web page can help you identify the plant. If you are not sure you have identified this plant correctly, DO NOT EAT IT.

Garlic Mustard plants have one flowering stem full of white flowers with four separated petals. Leaves are alternate and triangular, with tooth-shaped edges, and they smell distinctly like garlic when crushed. To collect, pluck the plant up by the roots; you’ll find it comes up quite easily. Remove all the leaves and wash them thoroughly.


An added bonus is the delicate flowers look pretty in a jar for a few days until the petals begin to fall.


Once the leaves are clean and spun dry in a salad spinner, combine the following ingredients in a food processor:


3 cups of packed Garlic Mustard leaves 

2 cloves of garlic 

1 1/4 cups of shredded Parmesan, Romano, or Asagio cheese 

1 cup of walnuts

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 ripe avocado

splash of lemon juice

salt & pepper to taste

reserved cooking water *


If you’re using the pesto for pasta, add a little reserved cooking water. Otherwise you can leave it out. For a nice, nutty texture, grind up the walnuts and garlic separately, then add them at the very end with the shredded cheese.


This also makes a great homemade gift for friends and family when presented in a jar with a raffia bow on top.  For an added touch, be sure to include a handwritten recipe so they can share the love!


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