In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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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!


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The Gardener’s Dilemma, Week Ending 3/31/2019

I’m late kicking off my garden this year. It’s been cold, the wind still blustery across my yard, and I don’t want to be outside. Plus I tried using “green mulch” last year, and frost bitten Austrian peas languish across beds and into the walkways. But company is coming, so I must get the garden and the yard to the point where they look presentable, even if they aren’t entirely productive.

But see… there’s these weeds.

Edible weeds.

And the weeds are growing now, when it’s still too cold for, well, almost anything accept weeds.

Best yet: they are growing without any work on my part.

But … they are weeds. They are thrive where they do not belong. And I need to remove them so I can grow the “real” food.

Chickweed (Stellaria media), my go-to replacement for salad lettuce in late winter:

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor), aka wild pansies, with their fragrant, edible flowers:

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor)

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor)

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) with its tart flavors providing a counterpart to the more stolid flavors  of other greens:

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

Miniature greens with the unflattering name of hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta):

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), an unassuming green for general cooking purposes:

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Dead nettle’s frilly cousin, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), also a green of generic utility:

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Common burdock (Arctium minus), whose roots will make a lovely addition to a stir fry when the ground has thawed enough to dig it up:

Common burdock (Arctium minus)

Common burdock (Arctium minus)

Field garlic (Allium vineale), the skinny, pungent relative of our domestic garlic and onions:

Field garlic (Allium vineale)

Field garlic (Allium vineale)

What I don’t have: peas, turnips, kale, lettuce, spinach, or any of the other spring crops we’re “supposed” to grow this time of year.

Maybe next week I’ll start gardening. Maybe.

P.S. – I did not include photos of wintercress (aka yellow rocket, Barbarea vulgaris) in this post, because the majority of my household considers it inedible. Boo.


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Cress Fallen, Week Ending 3/24/2019

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.

Yellow Rocket Leaves and Flower Bud

Yellow Rocket Leaves and Flower Bud

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!

Belle Isle Cress ... or is it?

Belle Isle Cress … or is it?

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).

Hairy Bittercress

Hairy Bittercress

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!