Fleetneedles' Forage: Hairy Bittercress

As part of our Save Our Skills year, we are looking at foraging. These post were originally published on our Facebook Page, we'd like to thank Claire Fleetneedle for allowing us to publish them here.

The uses for hairy bittercress #foraging #saveourskills

HAIRY BITTERCRESS (Cardamine Hairsuta)

Hairy Bittercress, also known as spring cress or peppercress and Lambs cress, is a member of the mustard family. The plant grows to about 30cm high, has white flowers and a collection of rounded leaves growing from each stem in an almost fern-like formation. Contrary to its name, the leaves are not particularly hairy or bitter!

Contains vitamins C, plus calcium and magnesium

This is considered an invasive weed; be careful to pick crops in areas that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides.

Antioxidant, immune system booster and digestive.

Everyday Uses
Bittercress is a member of the mustard family and has a great peppery flavour with edible leaves, stalks and flowers. I have read that the roots can be pureed with vinegar and made into a horseradish style sauce, although the roots are so small it would be quite a laborious task.

It is one of the first edible greens to appear in early spring and is a great way to top up your vitamin c levels. As a member of the brassica family it also contains sulphur compounds which work as anti-oxidants on the body. Its flavour is not particularly bitter but when it reacts with the enzymes in your stomach it does have bitter qualities.
At this point it’s worth noting the bitter principle in herbalism which suggests that, when your stomach reacts with a bitter flavour, it stimulates not only your stomach but other internal organs.

Bittercress is also thought to help regulate blood sugars.

These two effects make it an excellent spring cleanser and digestive.

While it may not have as many purposes as some of the herbs around us, there is no doubt the plant is very tasty and abundant. It can be made into pesto or added to soups and stews and we often use it on sandwiches and in salads from March through to autumn and even in a mild winter. I think it has a far better flavour than rocket – and it’s free!

Bittercress salad #food #saveourskils

Bittercress Salad

Freshly pick 2 – 4 handfuls of bittercress leaves (depending on how many you are feeding)
8 – 10 cherry tomatoes
A sprig of thyme
Finely chopped small red onion
Feta cheese
Apple cider vinegar
Lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste       

Bittercress is an early spring food #saveourskills #food
Once picked, rinse the bittercress leaves at least three times then leave in a bowl of cold water for about an hour with a pinch of salt. This will soften the leaves and sweeten the flavour.

In a salad bowl place the finely chopped onions and the thyme leaves roughly chopped. Pour over a couple of capfuls of apple cider vinegar and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. This is to partially cook the onion and soften their flavour; it also infuses the vinegar with a delicate thyme flavour. After about 10 minutes pour in approximately a table spoon of olive oil and whisk with a fork. If the dressing seems too vinegary add a little more oil.  Chop up the tomatoes and the feta - add them to the dressing. Then drain the bittercress and mix it into the salad. Add salt and black pepper to taste, and enjoy.

A sprig of raw thyme contains more iron than a steak so it is excellent for those suffering with iron deficient anaemia.

Apple cider vinegar has a wealth of well documented medicinal properties. It also has much less acidity than most vinegars, making it far gentler on the digestive system.
This is an account of my personal experience using Hairy Bittercress, combined with information I have researched over a number of years. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.

Happy Hunting, Claire Fleetneedle

LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.


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