Bittercress, a Nationwide Herb

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Bittercress
Bittercress, notice the small leaves and upright flower stalks

Hairy bittercress(Cardamine hirsuta) and similar species such as pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica) are small annual or biennial herbs that are prolific native plants in almost every state in the US. It is a winter annual so it germinates in the fall, stays alive throughout the winter then flowers and puts out seed in the spring. Despite the name it is usually not bitter, It’s a delicious herb and the best part, its free, you can find it almost anywhere.

Edibility and Culinary Use

The leaves and flower stalks can be eaten raw or cooked.  The root can be grated and used as a flavoring.  The flavor of this plant is similar to broccoli rabe but much milder. Take a look at this Spicy Bittercress Sautee Recipe.  Bittercress is an often overlooked wild edible, but the herby flavor can add some spice to any type of food.

Health Benefits

Being in the brassica family bittercress has many health benefits.  It contains glucosinolates which are known to help remove carcinogens from the body.  It also contains, vitamin C, beta-carotine, and possibly lutein which is known to help reduce vision problems including cataracts.

Key ID Features

Bittercress is a lawn weed that is green early in the spring and late in the fall.  This is when it is easiest to spot. Here is a list of some of the identifying features of this plant:

1) Circular to 3-lobed small leaves toward the base of the plant which are arranged in a very orderly row along the stem. narrower leaves toward the upper part of the flower stalk which are also arranged in an orderly row along the stem.

2) Leaves and stems come from a single point.

3) Flower stalks with small white flower clusters which turn into small elongated seed pods later in the year.

The best way to identify a plant like this is once you think you have found it, pull it up by the roots and bring it inside to compare to this picture or other pictures from credible sources.

Conclusion

This small plant can make a big impact for anyone who loves to forage for wild food, or anyone who wants to add another herb to their pantry.  It is easy to spot once you know what to look for, and very easy to harvest since there is usually an abundance of plants in one area. Next time your walking through your lawn or garden in the spring or late fall, look for Bittercress, and try a little, you might like it.

Read our Article on: Safe Foraging


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Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), also known as American black elderberry or common elderberry, is a shrub that can easily be found throughout North America. It’s known for its delicious, dark purple berries and lacy white flowers. Elderberries and elderflowers are famous for their culinary and medicinal uses. Edibility and culinary use Almost all parts of this plant are poisonous, except for its flowers and ripe berries. Elderflowers are delicate and fragrant with a slightly tart flavor. These cream-colored flowers are typically used as an edible garnish or to flavor desserts and beverages. Elderflowers can also be made into jelly or deep-fried to make fritters. Dried elderflowers can also be brewed to make medicinal herbal tea. Much like elderflowers, elderberries taste tangy and tart, although stronger. These dark purple berries should never be eaten raw as it might cause stomach aches. Elderberries are usually made into jam, marmalade, pastry filling, juice, wine, tincture, and syrup. Elderberry tincture and syrup are often used for medicinal remedy. Health benefits Elderberry is packed with important nutrients. Both the berries and flowers are rich in vitamin A, B, and C. The tiny berries even contain more vitamin C than oranges. They’re high in dietary fiber which can promote a healthy digestive system. Elderberries and elderflowers also contain a lot of antioxidants like anthocyanins, flavonols, and phenolic acids. This means they’re great for reducing oxidative stress in the body, preventing cancer, and reducing inflammations. Elderflowers and elderberries are often used to treat and prevent cold. They’re also great for alleviating cold symptoms, such as cough, nasal congestion, and fever. Elderberry is also said to be good for treating allergy and asthma symptoms. Its anti-inflammatory property also makes it great for alleviating pain, treating mouth and gum inflammation, reducing toothache, and treating digestive problems. Lastly, consuming elderberry can improve cardiovascular health as it helps lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. Cultivation Elderberry is not very hard to cultivate. With some work and patience, you’ll be able to grow some elderberry shrubs in your own garden. While it loves moist, fertile, and well-drained soil, this plant can tolerate almost every type of soil. But, it can’t tolerate drought at all. So, be sure to water the plant regularly. Plant elderberry in a location with full sun for a better harvest. Before planting, prepare the soil by incorporating manure or compost. Plant elderberry bushes in the spring, after the last frost date has passed. Plant each plant 6” to 10” apart, make sure the roots are well-covered. Water them once or twice a week to ensure they don’t dry out. Get rid of surrounding weed regularly, especially when the shrubs are young. Let the shrubs grow wild for the first two years. Don’t prune them or harvest the flowers and berries. This way, they’ll grow nicely and produce a lot of berries. Then, starting from the third year, prune the shrubs each spring and remove all the dead areas. The berries will start to appear at the end of summer and they will ripen around mid-August to mid-September. Make sure to pick them before the birds finish them off. Cautions Common elderberry leaves, stems, and roots are poisonous. Ripe elderberries are generally safe, but unripe elderberries contain toxins that can only be destroyed through cooking. Eating unripe or uncooked elderberries may result in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Elderberry may cause the immune system to be more active, so people with autoimmune disorders should avoid consuming elderberry. Also, be careful not to confuse elderberry shrubs with the toxic water hemlock. These plants look somewhat similar, moreover, they typically grow in the same area. Elderberry has opposing leaves while water hemlock has alternating leaves.  Water hemlock doesn’t grow berries, but they do grow flowers. Water hemlock flowers look similar to elderflowers, but they have a firecracker-like formation. Do not touch or ingest water hemlock flowers at all. Conclusion Elderberry can be a valuable source of food and herbal remedy if you know how to prepare it. This plant’s tiny berries and dainty flowers definitely pack a punch when it comes to flavor. They’re versatile and can be used in a lot of delicious recipes. And their health benefits are undoubtedly amazing as well. It’s not a surprise to find that Native Americans have been using elderberries and elderflowers to make traditional herbal medicine.
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2 comments on “Bittercress, a Nationwide Herb

  • I’m so excited I found your wid edible site can’t wait to read more ! I’m so in on keeping our planted free of pesticides! Whoever grows in my lawn stays in my lawn! Waaaahoooo!
    Thank you !

    Reply
  • I’m so excited I found your wid edible site can’t wait to read more ! I’m so in on keeping our planted free of pesticides! Whoever grows in my lawn stays in my lawn! Waaaahoooo!
    Thank you ! Please keep me posted on more edible goodies!

    Reply

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