contributed by Carol Jacobsen
This time of year finds me thinking about Spring and planning my garden. In addition to the vegetables we are all familiar with, I have also been learning about the abundance that is all around us, in wild foods. Especially in the spring, I try to eat salads of wild plants; I believe that our bodies need these infusions of potent greens after the heavy foods of winter. So here is some information you might be interested in, about the herb Bittercress (Cardamine spp.). Bittercress is one of the early edible spring herbs, appearing in February. In a mild winter it can actually overwinter, or appear even earlier, but it is technically an annual, a plant that grows, blooms, goes to seed and dies back in one year. There are many varieties, including a “Blue Ridge” and “Mountain” Bittercress. Despite its name, it is not at all bitter, and has a great flavor. Belonging to the Mustard family, it is mildly pungent and great in soup, salad or lightly cooked. Generally low growing, it is identified by 2 – 4 opposite leaflets, with a terminal leaf, usually larger than the rest, all growing from a central tap root (a form called “rosette”). It has tiny white or pinkish flowers with four petals. After the flowers are long cylindrical seed pods which expel the seeds explosively. The leaves are lobed but can vary is shape with the different varieties. Both leaves and stems are edible. The stems may be upright or long and stringy, and it is often found growing in wet land, near springs and streams. The leaves can be bluish, and it has a peppery flavor. It is a safe plant, with no poisonous look-alikes, so I would feel free to nibble and confirm its membership in the Mustard family. If you would like to harvest a larger quantity, don’t take from the woodland varieties, as the native plants can be endangered, but look for the variety “Hairy” Bittercress, which has tiny hairs on the leaves; it is considered a weed, spreading vigorously in damp, disturbed ground. What better way to eliminate it than to eat it away? Take a look for Bittercress in the late winter, it will reseed itself and disappear by mid spring. Happy foraging!