Wintercress is a common field plant and weed to many, which goes into a vegetative state during the cold season and then comes roaring back to life when temperatures rise. It is a prolific grower, and because of this, you might wonder if you can eat wintercress greens. Read on to find out if wintercress is edible.
Is Wintercress Edible?
Yes, you can eat wintercress greens. In fact, it was a popular potherb generations ago, and with the advent of modern foraging, it is regaining that popularity once again. Back in the day, wintercress greens were called “creasies” and were a valuable source of nutrition during cool months when other greens had died back.
About Wintercress Greens
There are actually a couple of different types of wintercress. Most of the plants you come across are common wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris). Another species goes by the names early wintercress, creasy greens, scurvy grass, or upland cress (Barbarea verna) and is found from Massachusetts southward.
B. vulgaris can be found further north than B. verna, as far up as Ontario and Nova Scotia and south to Missouri and Kansas.
Wintercress can be found in disturbed fields and along roadsides. In many regions, the plant grows year-round. Seeds germinate in the fall and develop into a rosette with long, lobed leaves. The leaves are ready to harvest at any time, though older leaves tend to be quite bitter.
Since the plant thrives during mild winter weather, it was often the only green vegetable available to the settlers and is extremely high in vitamins A and C, hence the name “scurvy grass.” In some areas, wintercress greens can be harvested as early as late February.
The raw leaves are bitter, especially mature leaves. To mitigate the bitterness, cook the leaves and then use them as you would spinach. Otherwise, mix the leaves in with other greens to tame the bitter flavor or simply harvest new, young leaves.
In the late spring to early summer, wintercress flower stems begin to grow. Harvest the top few inches (8 cm.) of the stems prior to the blossoms opening, and eat them like rapini. Boil the stems for a few minutes first to remove some of the bitterness and then sauté them with garlic and olive oil and finish them with a squeeze of lemon.
Another wintercress use is eating the flowers. Yes, the bright yellow flowers are also edible. Use them fresh in salads for a pop of color and flavor, or as a garnish. You can also dry the blooms and steep them to make a naturally sweet tea.
Once the blooms are spent, but before the seeds drop, harvest the spent blossoms. Collect the seeds and use them either to sow more plants or for use as a spice. Wintercress is a member of the mustard family and the seeds can be used in much the same way as mustard seed.