We All Know A Weed Is Just A Plant in the Wrong Place. But Why Grow & Eat Them? This Is How To Grow Bittercress, A Tasty Edible Weed.
Gardeners often swear about bittercress when they find it in their beds or pots. It’s a very fast growing ephemeral that spread its seeds like infantrymen use rocket propelled grenades. Once ripe the seeds are propelled several feet into the air, only to land at a new site to create a nuisance.
So why would anyone ever try to grow them or write articles on how to grow bittercress?
Why Grow Bittercress?
I’ve already answered that, at least in part. They are a very fast growing weed. And being a weed it is a successful plant, able to withstand all sorts of adverse conditions that less resilient veg would struggle with. As well as being fast growing and able to grow almost anywhere it has another outstanding attibute. It is tasty AND it grows well in winter.
Our medieval ancestors ate it when they could. It would be found in the winter corn stubbles alongside lambs lettuce and a few other so called weeds. They didn’t think of them as weeds. For them they were winter essentials. And so it is with me. I’ve relearnt how to grow a good winter salad plant that deserves better than being accused of being a weed!
When supermarket shelves were looking bare I still had containers full of bittercress.
Two Types of Bittercress
Just like being able to choose various types of veg from a seed merchants catalogues we have a choice of bittercress to choose from. There’s hairy bittercress and wavy bittercress. Both are edible and I don’t worry which one I grow. And the great thing about them is you don’t need to buy seed. Just gather it from ripe plants and let them expose their seed over your pots, containers and beds.
As for the hairs on hairy bittercress, don’t worry, they are minute and on the stems. You need good eyesight to see them and they don’t affect the flavour.
I’m often asked to distinguish between the different bittercresses. Of course the hairs are a give away, but the reality is the two often hybridise and they are a lot of hybrid bittercresses. the good news is that they are all edible.
the technical way to differentiate the two is to ignore the hairs and count the stamens. One has four and one has six. I can never remember which is which and I don’t actually worry about this when eating them! What I think about is the flavour .. and I’m going to describe that in a moment.
If you want to recognise and/or forage for the species I suggest reading the two links I’m adding below. One is by forager, Rachel Lambert, and she explains where to find the plants in the wild. Basically they are mostly found on disturbed soil … or in my case in containers in the greenhouse in mid winter and outside later in the spring.
The other article is also about the the identification, edibility and distribution of bittercress. Both articles have merit.
What Does Bittercress Taste Like?
The first bit of good news here is that it isnt bitter! It’s actually a nice crisp succulent plant that tastes. bit like a cross between watercress and rocket. So a bit peppery like many of its family (it’s actually a brassica).
How To Cook Bittercress
The best advice I can give here is don’t cook it. Eat it raw in salads. I find it far too good raw to ever bother cooking it.
This is simple. Take and existing plant and allow it to expose its seeds over a container. The seeds ar every small but will soon germinate and start to grow. Transplant if you want to but I tend to let them do their own thing and not bother too much. If a section of container appears devoid of bittercress I’m much more likely to stick in a module of lambs lettuce. They make good bedfellows and bittercress is often called lambs cress. Town lambs in a single bed!
This is an edible weed that is easy to grow. There are plenty of others.
The Joys Of Weed Growing
One of the great joys with bittercress is that you can harvest all year. And believe me if it’s mild for a few days a few plants will pop up somewhere. They prefer moist areas but not too wet and the second great joy is the fact you can graze on them as you garden. Often I bend over to snatch a bittercress plant from the soil and will munch it there and then. One of the downsides of No dig is that I have fewer weeds .. so not so much bittercress to forage on!