Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

Wild Food: Scurvygrass

Handful of scurvygrass on a foraging course

Scurvygrass is an edible family of plants (part of the Cabbage, Brassicaceae family), and you guessed it, it's god for preventing scurvy! In this post I describe how to identify scurvygrass, where it grows, its flavour, nutrition and uses.

Scurvygrass leaf on a foraging course in the Lizard peninsula

Benefits and nutrition in scurvygrass

Scurvy grass is renowned for its high content of vitamin C and was carried on ships by Captain Cook in the 16th century. According to wild food forager, researcher and writer Roger Philips, it was transported in the form of dried bundles or distilled in liquid. Neither of these forms appeal to me, though it’s better than getting scurvy.

If you’re not familiar with the effects of vitamin C deficiency, it can cause an illness called scurvy. Scurvy starts as a feeling of weakness, fatigue and aching limbs. If it progresses is can cause anaemia, gum disease and skin haemorrhages. It occurs after at least 3 months of vitamin C deficiency, which was common amongst sailors on long-haul ships, such as those led by Captain Cook.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, helps to protect cells and keeping them healthy. This in turn maintains; healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage and aids wound healing.

Scurvygrass growing by a coastal stone wall on a foraging walk

Where does scurvygrass grow?

Common scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis) is native to North and West Europe;  Baltic States, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Føroyar, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, North European Russi, Norway, Sweden. It has been introduced in; Argentina South, Czechoslovakia, Falkland Is., Italy, Khabarovsk, Spain and Switzerland.

It grows up to 50cm tall, with kidney-shaped leaves with edges that curve under. Mainly a coastal plant, though can be found in saltmarshes, walls, cliffs and inland mountains. Danish scurvygrass (Cochlearia danica) is a smaller version, growing to just 20cm tall and is also native to North and West Europe. I find it a lot on the Isles of Scilly too. Common and Danish scurvygrass are the two most common types.

There is also a Pyrenean scurvygrass (Cochlearia pyrenaica) which grows across Europe in mountainous areas; rocky slopes, upland streams and meadows. It grows up to 30cm tall. Finally English scurvygrass (Cochlearia anglica) grows around estuaries and coastal mudflats in; Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden.

What does scurvygrass look like?

Scurvygrass can vary in height from 20-50cm (see notes on different scurvygrass species above). The glossy, kidney-shaped leaves are quite thick and succulent. The underside can sometimes (but not always) have a purple tinge or purple veins. The flowers are white each have 4 petals, 4-14mm across.

Scurvygrass in flower in winter on a foraging course

When does scurvygrass flower?

Each species flowers in a slightly different season. Danish scurvygrass is the only one that typically flowers through Winter

  • Common scurvygrass flowers Spring to Autumn
  • Danish scurvygrass flowers from mid-Winter to the end of Summer
  • English scurvy flowers Spring to Autumn
  • Pyrenean scurvygrass mid-Summer to early Autumn
Scurvygrass in flower near the coast on a foraging course in Cornwall

What does scurvygrass taste like?

Some find English scurvygrass more palatable than Common and Danish scurvygrass. Scurvygrass has a spicy, heat, with a bitter aftertaste. My friend Luke thinks it tastes like anaesthetic! It can be added to salads. I love the challenge of eating a leaf and letting the strong flavours hit my taste-buds knowing that the vitamin C is doing me a lot of good!

Scurvygrass Pesto recipe

A simple dip, dressing that both mellows the flavours of scurvygrass and shows-off its layers of punchy flavours.

  • Large handful of scurvygrass leaves and stalks
  • 15-20g Pine nuts
  • 3 Cornered Leek
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Lemon juice (optional)
  • Olive Oil (enough to make a smooth paste)

Put all the ingredients in a blender, add olive oil gradually and just enough to make a good paste. Serve with rice and crab cakes.

Showing the leaf-shape of scurvygrass on a foraging course

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