Late Winter / Early Spring: Hairy Bittercress

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Who:

Hairy bittercress, also known as garden cress, pepper cress, popweed

Cardamine hirsuta

Brassicaceae (Mustard / Brassica) family

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What:

Common cool-weather garden weed; all parts are edible.

More “microgreens” in the realm of edible wild plants.

Where:

Commonly found in gardens and ornamental landscaping beds; often in marginal, bare, recently disturbed soil. Also common as a weed in sidewalk cracks in urban environments.

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When:

Often germinates through the winter and matures early in spring. Completes its life cycle in conjunction with spring ephemeral wildflowers. Will reemerge the following autumn.

Why:

After chickweed, hairy bittercress is perhaps the next most common edible “weed” you’re likely to discover in your backyard garden.

As a member of the Brassicaceae family, bittercress has a very sharp, peppery flavor, not unlike arugula or radish greens.

How:

Harvest the greens anytime you find them out on the land. Pluck individual leaves or cut the whole rosette at soil level. 

Earlier in its life cycle is best, as it may become to bitter and unpalatable or some once it goes to seed in spring.

Consume raw, use as a garnish in salads, sandwiches and soups. 

May also be used as a substitute in recipes that call for watercress or arugula.

Will generally wilt very quickly after harvesting, so best to eat immediately.

Expect the plant to resprout from its extremely long taproot, regardless of whether or not you attempt to extract it.

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Key characteristics:

  • basal rosette growth habit

  • compound leaf terminating in kidney-shaped leaflet

  • distinct brassica flower stalk, flowers, and seed pods

  • mature seed pods will pop open when touched, thus the common name popweed

Lookalikes:

None. May bear a passing resemblance to other brassicas with “cress” in their common name, such as wintercress or watercress, which are also edible and easily distinguishable.

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