Last week I briefly mentioned that I had two cresses available for local foraging.
Since then, I discovered I was wrong about one of them. Yes, really, in one week. I will go back and fix that previous post. You know, eventually.
Yes, there are two types of cresses still. One is yellow rocket, which is also known as wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris). The leaves and flower buds are edible, although not everyone loves their intense flavor.
An extremely unscientific study of a very small sample size bore this out. I thought the raw leaves tasted just fine, but my husband couldn’t stand them. Yellow rocket leaves are best mixed with other greens if eaten raw or sauteed; boiling them apparently removes some of the pungent, bitter intensity. I plan to test this method at some point when I am the only one around to eat the results!
I thought my other cress was Barbarea verna, known variously as Belle Isle cress, upland cress, or even “early yellow rocket.” I drew this conclusion after buying seeds for Belle Island cress in 2017 for a winter garden crop. I mean, the weed looked a lot like the drawing on the seed packet!
Turns out that Belle Isle cress has yellow flowers, and these little plants – with similarly shaped leaves arranged in a basal rosette – definitely have white flowers.
Meet: hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta).
See? Still a cress! So my statement last week about two local cresses still stands true.
Wintercress isn’t mentioned in every foraging manual, possibly because not everyone enjoys the flavor. Hairy bittercress gets even less publicity, although I’m not sure why. Maybe the name puts people off. It is definitely edible though. Honestly, since I misidentified the plant from the beginning, I have been nibbling on its leaves for over a year now.
FORAGING SAFETY NOTE: THIS IS DUMB. Do NOT ingest anything you “think” is an edible plant. Always make 100% sure of your identification before you pop a piece of a plant in your mouth. In this case, if I had researched the color of the flowers more carefully, I would have known I had the wrong plant. I lucked out this time, but you can’t always count on that!
Hairy bittercress grows, weed-like, everywhere in my garden. It has a milder flavor than wintercress, and is pleasant raw. (At least, in my opinion.) Now that I really know what it is, I may attempt watercress recipes with hairy bittercress, since that seems like a closer flavor match than wintercress. Although since each plant is so small, it remains to be seen if I can harvest enough to actually use for a recipe. If all else fails, I can add it a mixed salad!