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Is Hairy Bittercress Edible – Learn How To Use Hairy Bittercress Weeds

Is Hairy Bittercress Edible – Learn How To Use Hairy Bittercress Weeds


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

There’s a good chance that hairybittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)may be growing among your garden weeds or between sidewalk cracks. You may knowit by a number of different names such as hoary bittercress, land cress, lamb’scress, flick weed, snapweed or shot weed.

Is hairy bittercress edible? What you may not realize asyou’re hoeing or pulling weeds, is that although it may look like just anotherstubborn invader, hairy bittercress actually has a pungent, peppery flavor andmany uses in the kitchen. The entire plant is edible, including the blooms.Let’s learn how to use hairy bittercress.

Identifying Hairy Bittercress as Herbs

Hairy bittercress isn’t difficult to spot. It grows in abasal rosette, which means the bright green leaves radiate from the base of theplant. Each stalk has between five and nine leaflet pairs.

This wild herb germinates in fall. Hairy bittercress is ahardy, frost-tolerant plant that remains green throughout the winter in mostclimates. Tiny white flowers appear on upright, wiry stems in early spring andcontinue to bloom until autumn.

Harvesting Hairy Bittercress

Foraging for hairy bittercress can be as simple as walkingout into your backyard. To harvest hairy bittercress, just grab that plant atits base and pull it out of the ground. If you prefer, you can gather theleaves in one hand and cut the plant at its base.

Be sure not to harvest hairy bittercress if there’s even theslightest chance it’s been sprayed with herbicides. Remember that mostgardeners view the plant as a pesky weed.

Hairy Bittercress Uses

It’s best to use hairy bittercress as soon as possiblebecause the plant wilts quickly. Many people prefer to snack on it straightfrom the field, but you may want to rinse it quickly to remove dirt and grit.You may want to discard the stems, which tend to be bitter too, hence thecommon name.

Here are a few ideas for how to use hairy bittercress, but we’re sure there are many more:

  • Sandwiches
  • Soups
  • Salads
  • As a garnish
  • Stirred into yogurt
  • Sprinkled over baked potatoes
  • Incorporate into hot pasta dishes
  • Float a few blooms on gazpacho or other summer soups
  • Roast a few sprigs with baby beetroots or other root veggies

Disclaimer:The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only.Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes orotherwise, please consult a physician, medical herbalist or other suitable professionalfor advice.

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Gardening for free: foraging in the garden

Leander Wolstenholme (left) and Kim Stoddart go foraging. Photograph: Kim Stoddart

Leander Wolstenholme (left) and Kim Stoddart go foraging. Photograph: Kim Stoddart

As the days shorten and everything slows down (myself included), my time is freed up to get more experimental in the garden. As I'm currently reading George Monbiot's fascinating book, Feral, about re-wilding – I realise I fancy going a bit more off the beaten track myself.

I already leave a few patches of the garden pretty much alone because of the beneficial wildlife these wilder areas encourage. But what I'd like to do now is have a stab at growing some munchable plants for which you would normally have to forage. Not because I don't like the idea of casually strolling through fields and woods looking for them (I do). But we don't have a great deal of time and the prospect of having some of these particularly delicious edibles, such as wild garlic leaves, closer to hand next year, is very appealing indeed. I've heard it can be done and I'm wondering what other undomesticated plants I can slip in about the place as well.

To remind myself what's out there - I have a flick through my collection of John Wright's various River Cottage foraging books for ideas.

Common weed fat hen (Chenopodium album) is useful for foragers. Photograph: Nigel Cattlin/Alamy

It turns out I have more than I think growing in the uncultivated spaces in the garden anyway. Common sorrel I already knew about, and having double- and triple-checked it isn't lords and ladies (its poisonous lookalike), I know it's safe to use. But I didn't realise we had fat hen, and to my surprise it turns out that a "weed" I've been battling all summer to eradicate from one of the polytunnels is the very edible hairy bittercress. In Wright's opinion it is "the best of the wild salad vegetables" and "neither hairy or bitter". Knowing that I can eat this tiny but ferociously invasive plant will hopefully lessen the annoyance that comes from trying to keep the blighter at bay.

So what else to try to add? Given the fact that I need to do this safely, legally and for free, I decide to enlist the help of a food forager and botanist I know Leander Wolstenholme. He lives with his family at Lammas , an eco-village in West Wales where the residents are all on a mission to live off the land. They are an inspiring and very hardy bunch. As well as foraging speciality salads and herbs for restaurants, Wolstenholme's also experimenting with seeing what wild plants he can encourage to grow on his plot. I go along to have a peek and find out what's working best.

Common sorrel is definitely top of the list. It normally likes to grow in a shady and sheltered spot as it's a hedgerow plant but it's flourishing on a relatively open and wind-exposed site so is probably quite forgiving of its location. It apparently grows well from seed which can be collected in July or August and seems to work best directly sprinkled into the soil. I'm going to add to my existing collection next year, as it's a versatile leaf that you can use in salads and which works particularly well as a delicious late addition to risotto.

Orpine's leaves may seem like an unusual salad ingredient, but they taste like cucumber. Photograph: Organica/Alamy

Orpine is an interesting plant that is also doing well on his plot. Originally a wild edible, because it's also popular as an ornamental in gardens, those foraged for nowadays are likely to have escaped from cultivation. The leaves taste of cucumber and are often used in salad. It's not one I'd considered but it has attractive large purple-pink flowers, and I can easily find somewhere to slip in the couple Wolstenholme offers me. It grows well from stalk cuttings apparently which can legally be taken from wild plants, as long as you don't dig up, or disturb the root.

Marsh mallow grows readily from seed. Photograph: blickwinkel/Alamy

The marsh mallow that he's experimenting with are also flourishing. Used as the original basis for, yes you've guessed it, marshmallows, I share his enthusiasm for using the roots from these plants to have a stab at a traditional take on these popular sweets. They grow well from seed apparently, and I'm going to just bury the prickly seed heads that he's given me in a moist spot of the garden and hope for some attractive white-pink flower heads next spring and summer.

The pernicious weed hairy bittercress is also a valuable addition to the salad bowl. Photograph: Nigel Cattlin/Alamy

Perhaps bizarrely, one plant that isn't doing so well is the bittercress, which apparently the slugs seem to relish. I wish they'd eat some of mine but never mind. Although he doesn't have them himself, I learn from Leander that my desire to have a stab at growing samphire is within the realms of possibility. Although a coastal plant, he knows someone who doesn't live by the seashore, yet has had success with a little patch of rock samphire. The issue for me will be getting hold of a few whole plants (for free) in the first place to start me off as I'd need to find a land (or rather beach) owner that'd give me permission to dig up a couple. This one may have to wait.

Unfortunately, the same issue goes for alexanders, which I also have a desire to try out, having tasted how delicious they are, even simply cooked in a little butter. I will try and grow them from wild seed but I'll need to be careful when it comes to identifying the plants in the first place because of their many poisonous relatives.

Wild garlic (ramsons) growing in woodland in Lancashire. Photograph: Dave McAleavy Images/Alamy

Wild garlic (aka ramsons) I'll go to extra efforts for. According to Martin Crawford's book on forest gardening, they do well grown from seed so I'll try that. I'm also going to track down some land and a willing landowner to let me gently pull up a few when they come into leaf (January/February next year). The obvious spot for them is then on a bank under a canopy of trees at the back of the garden but I'm also going to try in one of the raised beds I've set aside for perennials. As it's important to keep weeds at bay I'll probably inter-plant them alongside some Fat Hen which Leander suggested would probably do the job. Thankfully, in the case of the latter, I'll just need to ask my own permission to dig up and move them which, whilst still on the wild side, involves a lot less walking.

As always if you have any related experiences or ideas to share - I'd love to hear them.

Kim Stoddart is a writer and thrifty living enthusiast who contributes to a variety of publications. She is a former businesswoman and social entrepreneur.


Identifying Hairy Bittercress

This itsy-bitsy member of the mustard and cabbage family sports a tiny, four-petaled white flower. The leaves along the flower stalk look very different from the leaves that ring the base of the plant, so be sure to take the time to familiarize yourself with photos of the plant before you eat it with certainty.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Though you might be able to chew on the flower stems, the leaves are the best eating on this weed. The best time to collect them is in early spring or late fall, when the leaves are more tender and the plant hasn’t spent all its energy creating its flowers and crazy projecting seeds.

Related Post: Wild Spinach

I have found that it is easiest to pull them from the ground whole, knock all the soil off their rather shallow roots, then separate the tasty spray of leaves from the rest of the plant on the spot. You can then quickly give them a rinse in a colander once you get back to the kitchen to make sure there’s no clinging dirt and presto! You have a ready-to-eat green that will do well both cooked or raw.


Using Hairy Bittercress As Herbs: Tips On Foraging For Hairy Bittercress Weeds - garden

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Edible Weed Garden "Free Food, Little Work"

posted 5 years ago
  • 6

  • I love to forage and garden. I am relatively new at both having a little over one year experience in foraging and planted my first garden earlier this year. Currently, I am foraging "weeds" such as henbit, chickweed, hairy bittercress, wood sorrel, etc. These things thrive and reseed themselves with no effort on my part.

    I don't read a lot about foraging from the permaculture group. Seems it would be ideal to garden those "weeds" already thriving in my area. I've noticed various edibles that grow in my area but not where I forage.

    If I could get weed seeds of all the edible wild weeds that would grow in my area I think I would be able to harvest masses of food easily. They reseed themselves so no further purchase may be necessary, grow like a weed and are very nutritious.

    Wouldn't growing masses of edible weeds be a major breakthrough in mainstream permaculture?
    If you know where I can get these seeds, let me know.

    posted 5 years ago
    • 5

  • I just assume people grow and eat "weeds" in their permaculture gardens! The main ones I eat are Canada Onion, Curly Dock, and Henbit. We have lots of Thistle but it's kind of a pain to prepare. I've tried to introduce Dandelion and Nettle but so far no luck.

    JL Hudson has seeds of many plants considered weeds: http://www.jlhudsonseeds.net/

    posted 5 years ago
    • 1

  • posted 5 years ago

  • I've never found Dandelion and Nettle nearby. I just covet them because they are supposed to be so nutritious!

    posted 5 years ago
    • 2

  • “Enough is as good as a feast"
    -Mary Poppins

    posted 5 years ago
    • 4

  • Tyler Ludens wrote: I just assume people grow and eat "weeds" in their permaculture gardens

    I thought so too! Lamb's quarters, wood sorrel, dandelions, common violets, yellow dock, sow thistle, burdock, salsify and a new volunteer thistle I let go to seed will provide more food.
    Also look here for seeds. http://www.sandmountainherbs.com/Catalog.html

    posted 5 years ago
    • 2

  • Hi Matu! Does your kale, or any other traditional garden crop, reseed itself and run wild without your intervention?

    I'd like to know if anyone is focusing on wild edible weeds in their permaculture systems. Those could probably fit the definition of permaculture even if they are annual plants because they reseed themselves without intervention. These weeds seem largely ignored. Just as I can't find seeds for many edible weeds already in america such as Cnidoscolus stimulosus and I know its a perennial with tasty roots, I bet there are lots of amazing "weeds" all over the world that can be grown in my area but are over looked the world over.

    Seems these weeds would be naturally in line with many permaculture principles. They have lived generations in your area and have adapted to your climate and don't need to be watered.

    posted 5 years ago
    • 3

  • I bet there are lots of amazing "weeds" all over the world that can be grown in my area but are over looked the world over.

    I think the truth is closer than you might think. Pretty much all of our common domestic veggies (lettuce, kale, carrots. ) were weeds that lived in the disturbed areas that humans inhabited. Many of the plants that we call weeds were candidates for domestication but did not prove themselves easy to domesticate, or were domesticated and bred but did not go the full route like some others, like the mustard that became cauliflower. Dandelion is one that never really got fully domesticated, but was still (and is still) widely consumed by traditional cultures and modern permies. Many families and regions had developed their own strains, but there were always many wild cousins interbreeding. The reason that there is so much variety in how a dandelion's leaves are, and the taste and size of both the leaves and roots, is because these all came from different human family cultivars. Chicory is another. There are some varieties that are becoming more domesticated, and of course the Endives and a few others are derived from the wild chicory.

    This is a really good thread. I really would like to see a comprehensive list of not just edible weeds that I might be able to grow Zone 3/Zone 4 , but also self seeding annual veggies, for my zone.

    Dandelion and Lambs Quarters are the primary ones that I consume from my garden at this point, but I would love to have some of my garden area dedicated to specifically self seeding annuals and weedy plants. Some people near me have dill self seeded, but I haven't got that yet (I did leave massive seeding plants of dill, fennel, daikon, and Kale in my garden this year to see what happens. I will definitely try the ones that Matu has been successful with.

    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."-Margaret Mead "The only thing worse than being blind, is having sight but no vision."-Helen Keller

    posted 5 years ago
    • 3

  • Benton Lewis wrote: Hi Matu! Does your kale, or any other traditional garden crop, reseed itself and run wild without your intervention?

    I'd like to know if anyone is focusing on wild edible weeds in their permaculture systRaphanus Raphanus raphanistrumaphanistrumms. Those could probably fit the definition of permaculture even if they are annual plants because they reseed themselves without intervention. These weeds seem largely ignored. Just as I can't find seeds for many edible weeds already in america such as Cnidoscolus stimulosus and I know its a perennial with tasty roots, I bet there are lots of amazing "weeds" all over the world that can be grown in my area but are over looked the world over.

    Seems these weeds would be naturally in line with many permaculture principles. They have lived generations in your area and have adapted to your climate and don't need to be watered.

    Years ago we had a CSA and got our kale and chicory seeds from wild garden seed. I have had some hearty red Russian kale types stay alive for the years, growing thick stems like trunks. All the plants I've mentioned are self seeding without any intervention from me, although I do save seed and disperse it. I also have a spicy mustard green that I don't remember buying but has been coming up for years, self seeding. In fact, once I spilled some seed near the front steps and I've had it coming up there and self seeding ever since. It's so spicy, it tastes like the wasabi paste!

    One tactic that works in my garden is to clear a small bed in spring if all vegetation, and wait. I watch what comes up carefully and there's always some good edibles in it. I'm really find of the flowers of the wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) so I end up letting it go to seed a lot and we always have plenty. I used to like the amarynth that folks call pigweed aside here, but I ate a lot of it and got tired of it. I tend to weed it out so the population has gone down. The past two springs I have been clearing this bed in the spring and planting my peas along the fence at the back and letting the yummy weeds act as ground cover and food. I just take out the annoying plants, like I said (bindweed!

    Plant identification is a skill I have cultivated. I can identify nearly every plant that grows on my 4 acre farm in nearly every life stage. The grasses and sedges are tricky but I mostly have the hang of them too. Every year, it seems, a new plant arrives in my garden and I have to identify it and decide about it. I was so thrilled to meet common mallow! Les thrilled to meet tickweed.

    “Enough is as good as a feast"
    -Mary Poppins