Edible Does Not Always Mean Good

After seeing how much hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) grew in my yard – and the strange lack of information about it in my foraging books – I decided to give it an honest try. I figure every weed deserves its day.

The plan was simple enough: use bittercress, measure for measure, in place of watercress in a classic, maybe even perfect, bowl of soup.

As you may have guessed by this post’s title, hairy bittercress has joined wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) on the list of plants that are “Edible, but not in this house.” (If you were wondering, arugula and okra are also on this list.)

I was a bit late in harvesting the bittercress, and a lot of it had already sent up flower stalks. In a lot of wild edibles, the flower stalks and flowers are edible too, so I harvested whole plants, minus the roots.

Tiny white bittercress flowers poke up through field garlic and purple deadnettle
Tiny white bittercress flowers poke up through field garlic and purple deadnettle

Well, unfortunately the bittercress flower stalks – while they appeared edible – were stiff and fibrous, and I spent an inordinate amount of time picking out the most offensive of them. Still enough remained that the soup, though pureed, was downright chewy in texture.

Mmmmm cress soup
Mmmmm, cress soup

My husband was a good sport, and had a small serving. The kids dared each other to taste it, like how they play chicken with eating wasabi – but hey at least that means they tried a taste, however tiny. Myself, I loaded my bowl with bacon and spiced pumpkin seeds and ate it all, because that is what I do.

I am happy to say we all lived to tell the tale. And at last, I have solved the mystery of why foraging books don’t discuss hairy bittercress. Better to save the pages – and the time spent harvesting! – for food actually worth the effort!

6 comments

  1. I learned a similar lesson in my line of work: if I have a programming problem, or some other issue that can be easily searched; but I never find any search results; that means nobody else had that problem. And so the problem is not in the component, or the operating system or whichever; instead it is some obvious user error that I am making (PEBCAK: problem exists between chair and keyboard). And so it is in foraging: if nobody writes about foraging some common-ish plant, it must not be worth foraging!

  2. Edible just means that you can eat the plant more than once! They may have been better earlier in the winter. I find them just too small to be bothered with.

  3. I love your adventurous spirit! And I agree, just because something is considered “edible” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also palatable 🙂
    Yesterday, I gathered all the edible weeds from my hoop house (baby lambs quarters, yellow rocket that is already beginning to bloom, purple deadnettle, and miner’s lettuce) to make a pesto. I had never bothered to taste the rocket or deadnettle even though I knew they were edible; so I decided to taste them before adding them to the pesto. And they were strong tasting, even a bit harsh, to my taste buds. I still added a small amount to the pesto – it resulted in a nice complexity of flavors that I enjoyed. But if the large quantity of miner’s lettuce had not offset the strong taste, it might not have ended so well….

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