Pesto is such a great way to make delicious use of an abundance of pretty much anything green and leafy. This dairy-free lemon balm pesto gives basil a break from its usual pesto duties. Instead lemon balm, kale, walnuts, and salty preserved lemon make up the bulk of this pesto for an unique touch on an Italian classic. And if preserved lemons aren’t your thing, just use more lemon juice.
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When you hear the word pesto, what do you think of? Do you think of basil, pine nuts, and a salty parmesan? Most people do.
And while, yes, that’s the most popular pesto in the whole entire world, the Genoese word pesto simply means to pound or to crush, referring to the traditional method of preparation… and you can pretty much pound or crush any greens and nuts into a pesto.
The Health Benefits in This Unique Pesto
This lemon balm pesto has another special ingredient too. Preserved lemon, sometimes also called lemon pickle, is a condiment traditional to the Indian subcontinent and North Africa. Whole lemons, peel included, are fermented in a brine of water and salt, resulting in a unique ingredient that is salty, tart, a little sweet, a tad bit floral, and incredibly lemony.
In the fermentation process, the lemon rinds soften and these softened, salty rinds are the magic of the preserved lemon. The rind can be sliced or chopped and added to a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
With walnuts, kale, and preserved lemon, this lemon balm pesto is packed full of nutrition and medicinal benefits, including a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. It’s also incredibly antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and as a result, is a powerful friend to your immune system. To say the least, it’s full up on all the magic of plants and whole foods.
The Health Benefits of Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a bright and cheery herb with not only a sweet lemony flavor, but an impressive nutritive and medicinal profile as well. It’s rich in antioxidant flavonoids and vitamin C, and has a long history of use as a medicinal herb.
As a plant medicine, lemon balm is considered to be:
- Nervine: Nervine herbs help to nourish and support the central nervous system in a way that can help to restore and bring balance to the body. They can be helpful in the treatment of stress and anxiety.
- Sedative: Sedative herbs help to calm the nervous system and can be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety.
- Anti-Viral: Anti-viral herbs help the body fight off many viruses. Studies have shown lemon balm to be particularly effective against herpes viruses.
- Antioxidant: Antioxidants help to slow and/or prevent premature aging and help to lower the risk of many inflammatory diseases.
- Carminative: Carminative herbs help to stimulate digestion in a way that helps to prevent symptoms of poor digestion such as gas and bloating, indigestion, nausea, etc.
Wanna dive deeper into lemon balm? Check out:
Meet the Plants | The Food & Medicine of Lemon Balm
More Lemon Balm Recipes You’ll Love!
How to Make Lemon Balm Pesto
This pesto takes less than 10 minutes to make and only requires a food processor.
Equipment You’ll Need:
- Fresh Lemon Balm
- Kale (I used green curly kale, but any type of kale will do.)
- Raw Walnuts
- Olive Oil
- Preserved Lemon
- Lemon Juice
- Fresh Garlic
- Sea Salt
- Add all ingredients to the food processor and process until the texture is as you desire. Some prefer their pesto a little chunkier, while others prefer it smooth and creamy.
- Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if needed.
Tips, Tricks, & FAQs
Where can I find preserved lemons?
You can find preserved lemons at most specialty groceries, and even some conventional ones. Whole Foods typically has them. Otherwise, you can easily purchase preserved lemons online. Just be sure to check the ingredients and looks for brands that don’t contain unnecessary ingredients like chemical preservatives. Preserved lemons are just that, preserved! They require little more than lemons and salt. Although, some brands will alsi contain vegetables, herbs, or spices for extra flavor.
What part of lemon balm is edible?
All aerial parts of lemon balm, including the leaves, stems, and flowers, are edible! If the lemon balm you’re using is delicate new growth, feel free to just throw the stems and all into the food processor. However, the stems on older growth can be a little woody. Be sure to just pick the leaves off if the stems seem tough and woody to you.
What is vegan pesto made of?
The only difference between vegan pesto and classic pesto is the parmesan cheese. Instead, vegan pesto typically relies a little more heavily on salt and lemon (and/or lemon zest) for the sharp tanginess that parmesan would usually add.
How can you use pesto?
You can use this lemon balm pesto any way that you’d use basil pesto! Here are some creative ways to use your lemon balm pesto:
- Stir a spoonful into soups and stews like potato soup or a hearty veggie stew.
- Toss chopped veggies in the pesto before you roast them.
- Spread it on toasted bread for a nice snack or use it as a sandwich spread.
- Thin it out with a little water or olive oil and use it as a salad dressing or marinade.
- Use it as a dip for veggies or crackers.
- Go traditional and toss your pasta in a big scoop of pesto.
Can I freeze pesto?
Yes! Pesto freezes really well. Freeze in an airtight container for up to one month. Or another popular option is to freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, you can pop the single-serving pesto cubes out and store them in a freezer bag or container for easy single-serving use.
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Lemon Balm Pesto with Kale & Preserved LemonCourse: Snacks, CondimentsCuisine: Vegan, Gluten-FreeDifficulty: Easy
Lemon balm and preserved lemon add such a unique flair to this twist on a classic basil pesto. Packed with all the nutrition and medicine of plants and whole foods, this lemon balm pesto is the perfect healthy (and vegan!) snack. Spread it on crackers, use it as a sandwich spread, drop a dollop onto your omelet, or roast your vegetables in it.
1 cup chopped walnuts, raw*
4 cups chopped kale, loosely packed (any variety will do)
2 cups fresh lemon balm leaves, loosely packed
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil (depending on desired consistency)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 heaping tablespoon preserved lemon, minced (or sub 1 tablespoon of lemon juice)
1-2 cloves garlic (depending on your preference)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- Combine all ingredients into a food processor & process to the desired consistency.
- Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if desired.
- Use immediately or store refrigerated in a sealed container. Use within 5-7 days. (Or freeze for us to one month.)
- *WALNUTS: If you don’t have walnuts, any nut or seed (or combination of) will do! Try using a pumpkin seed & cashew combo, or go a more traditional route and use pine nuts. Pecans, sunflower seeds, or macadamias will also work!
I hope you enjoy this little botanical breakaway from the classic pesto. Lemon balm adds such a nice treat for the senses with the added benefits of plant medicine.
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DISCLAIMER: The information given in this article is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before consuming certain herbs & medicinal foods, especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking any prescription medications.