hairy bittercress, spring cress, winter cress
Cardamine hirsuta, spring cress, pepperweed, or hairy bittercress, is a very common and supremely useful little wild green. It is flavourful, with the punchy bite common to the mustard family, the brassicales. In spite of its common name, it is neither bitter nor hairy, similar in taste and tender juicy texture to some of its cousins like rocket or watercress. It is ubiquitous around Edinburgh, preferring cool weather and disturbed, damp soil, all of which we have in abundance. It is easy to find, being practically everywhere in gardens, flowerpots, woodlands, meadows, driveways, stone walls, and cracks in the pavement, and it is easy to identify with it delicate micro-greens rosette of pinnate leaves and with its miniature four petaled white flowers. The only plants looking and tasting similar are its close relatives and they are just as edible.
Finally, I love it for growing so early in spring when we are hungry for fresh, juicy green leaves (and for the Vitamins in them). Cardamine is particularly high in Vitamin C, so provides the forager’s kitchen nutritionally as well as culinarily with the perfect February ingredient.
I use it as a wild, free, beautiful and flavoursome substitute for cress (as in an egg and spring cress sandwich on creamy goat cheese), arugula/rocket/rucola (giving bite to salads or tossed in pasta), or watercress (in a creamy potato and spring cress soup for instance).
If you haven’t already, take a look: this tasty little weed might be growing just by your own back door (it does by mine); give it a nibble and see if you don’t fall in love with this delicate, peppery wild herb.