substitute for basil in pesto

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Are you making a pesto recipe? Don’t have any basil and realized you’re all out while you’re making that delicious pesto? Here are the best ways to substitute for basil in pesto!

 basil substitute for pesto

Pesto also called pesto alla genovese is a type of sauce from Genoa, Italy. Pesto is usually made with a combination of garlic, pine nuts, basil leaves, hard cheese, and olive oil and is used on pizza, sandwiches, in salads, spaghetti, lasagna, gnocchi soups, and more.

Basil plays an important role in pesto as it gives it that signature vibrant green color and it adds some of that intense basil flavor.

But what if you have no basil on hand? Or maybe you want to use something else in place of basil because you do not like this herb? Can you successfully replace it in a pesto recipe? You definitely can do so with good results. And the best part is that you can do so with other herbs and vegetables that are very easy to find.

So, what can be used as a substitute for basil in pesto?

The best substitutes for basil in pesto are leafy greens and fresh herbs like kale, spinach, arugula, watercress, parsley, cilantro, mint, sage, tarragon or celery leaves. Each will add a slightly different flavor, and some may even change the texture and consistency of the pesto recipe.

However, the same beautiful vibrant green sauce will be the end result and it is sure to be delicious regardless of which leafy vegetable or herb replaces the basil leaves.

Also, combining some of the different herbs and leafy vegetables together works well too!

Keep reading to see how each of these substitutes can be used in pesto in place of basil leaves.

Best substitutes for basil in pesto




If you have no basil, then kale can be used to make a delicious pesto. Kale pesto is more peppery compared to the more aromatic basil pesto, but it is quite delicious and can be used in much the same way you would use basil pesto.


fresh spinach


Another green leafy vegetable that can be used to make pesto is spinach. Spinach pesto is quite easy to make and includes all the traditional ingredients used to make pesto, plus spinach.

Spinach pesto is more mellow than the traditional basil pesto and is a great way to add more spinach to your eating regime. This type of pesto can also be used in the same way as you would use regular basil pesto.




If you have arugula, you can also use it to make an arugula pesto recipe. Arugula pesto is typically slightly bitter but the flavors can be balanced out with the use of walnuts instead of pine nuts.


When you have no basil, watercress can also be used to make a pesto recipe. Watercress pesto works just like any other pesto for sandwiches, crackers, pasta, meats, and more.


fresh parsley

Parsley is another leafy vegetable that can be used in place of basil to make pesto. Fresh parsley is great to use when basil is out of season and the result will be a tasty, green, cheesy, garlicky and nutty pesto that can be used in the same way as pesto made with fresh basil.


Cilantro for pesto


Didn’t think you could make pesto with cilantro? Well, you definitely can! Cilantro pesto can be used in all recipes that call for traditional basil pesto at a 1:1 ratio. Also, read more about cilantro substitutes here.


mint as a sub for basil in pesto


Mint pesto anyone? If you’re out of basil, but you have fresh mint, you can use this herb to make a bright and zesty pesto too. It’s quite easy to make and, like all other pesto recipes, this minty flavored pesto can be used for sandwiches, pasta, meats, and more.


Another great basil substitute for pesto is sage. Sage pesto can be made in pretty much the same way that basil pesto is made and is perfect for fall and can work well with vegetables like potatoes, pumpkin, and squash, as well as chicken, meats, and more.

Read more about sage substitutes here.


fresh tarragon

Tarragon is another great alternative for basil in pesto. Of course, tarragon pesto will have a different flavor than basil pesto, but, it works great paired with fish, chicken, pasta, oven-roasted veggies, and more. Also to learn more about the best substitutes for tarragon, click here.

Celery leaves

Another great sub for basil in pesto is celery leaves. Celery leaf pesto is quite delicious, made with ingredients like fresh celery leaves, lemon zest, garlic, almonds, grated Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, and can be used in the same way you use basil pesto.

So give it a try if you have celery leaves that you don’t have any other use for! You will not regret it. 

Pesto recipes with each basil substitute for pesto

Below, you will find links to recipes that correspond with each of the substitutes for basil used to make pesto listed above. These recipes will help you understand how to substitute for basil pesto! 

When it comes to making pesto, you can use quite a few combinations of herbs or leafy veggies, cheese, garlic, and nuts to make yourself the perfect substitute for basil pesto. This list of basil substitutes for pesto show you just how adaptable pesto really is and how you can use so many fresh greens to make fresh homemade pesto!

Literally, you can use any leafy green you have on hand to make a yummy pesto without basil! Also, feel free to check out these great alternatives for parmesan cheese in pesto here.

More basil substitutes for specific recipes

Are you making a pesto recipe? Don’t have any basil and realized you’re all out while you’re making that delicious pesto? Here are the best ways to substitute for basil in pesto!

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