Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

Wild Food: Hairy Bittercress

Growing hairy bittercress

One of the things I love about teaching foraging is changing people's opinions about 'weeds'.

Actually, I don't need to do anything to change people's opinions because these weeds are so amazing and some are so tasty, my work is done for me!

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is one such weed. In this blog I share where to find it, how to identify it, how to use it and why to eat it!

Flowering weed

Where does Hairy Bittercress grow?

Do you recognise this weed from your garden? Hairy bittercress is a common garden weed that thrives in freshly dug and bare ground, in flower beds, borders, pots, between paving stones and even on walls.

If you've just weeded your garden, hairy bittercress loves that bare ground to settle in!

A very similar species Wavy bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa) loves to grow in damp, shady areas from muddy puddles, to streamsides and marshes as well as in gardens.

These are the two most common types of bittercress, therefore I am going to focus on these for this blog.

How to Identify Hairy bittercress

Hairy bittercress has straight stems, is sometimes hairy (but not always) and grows up to 30 cm but is usually a lot shorter. The shape of the leaves are reminiscent of watercress - just a lot smaller!

It flowers from February through to November and through mild winters, such as those we have here in Cornwall. The seed pods are long and can overtop the whole plant!

Growing hairy bittercress

How and when to harvest bittercress

You can eat bittercress all year round, even when it is in flower and has seed pods. Although it will be less fibrous before the flowers and seeds.

Winter is the perfect time to harvest this plant, it makes a great winter salad green. If you like fiery flavours, pick just before it flowers when the flavour will be at its strongest.

You can pull the whole plant up, chop and eat! Suggestions for using it are below.

Growing hariy bittercress weed

Is hairy bittercress edible?

Yes, hairy and wavy bittercress are edible weeds. The best way to use them is as an edible garnish or in salads. Bittercress has a peppery, cress-like flavour and is best eaten raw.

It balances strong flavours well and can be used with sharp or sweet dressings too. However, a few years ago we created a hairy bittercress pesto. I don't recommend it! The cheese completely overwhelmed this wonderfully flavour-ful plant, so best keep it simple.

If you have a lot of it, you can wilt it like a vegetable or make a soup (think watercress soup).

Cheese on toast with hairy bittercress

How to eradicate hairy bittercress

It goes without saying that eating hairy bittercress is a great way to get rid of it! In many situations it is considered an invasive, unwanted plant. You can pull the whole plant up, and eat it (not the feathery roots!) before the seeds disperse.

Hairy and wavy bittercress are some of the plants I teach on my foraging courses and private foraging experiences.

This recipe is also in my book Wild and Sweet - forage and make 101 seasonal desserts, where I use it in 3 of the recipes in the Dandelion and burdock section.

6 comments on “Wild Food: Hairy Bittercress”

  1. I get so much of this in my garden as over the hedge where I grow most of my vegetables in raised beds, is a field full of wild plants an flowers.

    I have tried this for the first time and love it.

    Thanks Rachel

  2. well,well...I'm in ar,USA & this little beast showed up all over to the point I found it as invasive!
    Thank you! I now know what to do with it!
    I'll try eating it!
    I wonder if there are any medicinal properties to it?
    Thank you again! signed up for your newsletter...

    1. Wonderful Dawn, it will have lots of nutrition, and share similar qualities to other cress and mustards. Enjoy.

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