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The First Wild Salad of the Season

February 25th, 2012

When sugaring season rolls around I start keeping my eyes peeled on the ground as I walk around and gather sap. The same weather that is good for sugaring is good for the earliest of the wild greens like bittercress and garlic mustard. When I was out planting lettuce seeds on Monday, I noticed that the bittercress on the front hillside was ready to harvest. Since this is a south facing slope with rock walls, it’s usually a zone ahead of the rest of the garden. While the ground in the raised beds in the back is still frozen, the earth here has already softened.

I’m not quite sure why bittercress has it’s name, it’s not bitter at all, at least not this early in spring. Typically I like to mix it with more tender lettuces and spinach, but I chose to grow cover crops this past winter instead of overwintered lettuce. Thus our salad was all bittercress.

Bittercress ‘cardamine hirsute’ also known as Pennsylvania Bittercress, Jumping Jesus, Flickweed, Popping Cress, and Common Bittercress. It’s a member of the mustard family, which is evident when it blooms. The reason it’s called flick weed, popping cress and jumping Jesus (my favorite name which I’ll call it from now on) is because the seed pods explode when they’re ripe. I have, on many occasions, had seeds flicked right into my eyes when I unknowingly brushed up against them while weeding

Bittercress is considered a weed, as many edible plants are. You could try to spray it out as many people recommend, but why not just eat it. It’s not as spicy as arugula and has a bit more flavor than lettuce, it does get spicier and tougher as the weather warms. It also has a lot of texture and thus is better when mixed with a variety of greens. The smaller the rosettes are when you pick them the more tender they are. The best way to harvest them is to slice the main root right above the soil line with a knife. Then you can cut the small branches from the main root.

Since bittercress is a member of the mustard family it’s highly nutritious. I couldn’t find nutritionally information for is specifically, but it would be similar to mustard with highly levels of Vitamin K, A, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, E, Folate, Manganese, Calcium and so many more wonderful things. For the health benefits of mustard see this article at World’s Healthiest Foods.

I love foraging for food, you certainly can’t beat filling your plate with food you harvested but didn’t have sow or tend.

Have you ever foraged for food? What’s your favorite wild food?

A few of my favorite books about foraging:

14 Comments to “The First Wild Salad of the Season”
  1. Jennifer Fisk on February 25, 2012 at 6:50 am

    My favorite wild food, if they can still be called wild considering they grow in our yards, are dandelions. I love that first mess of greens in the spring with salt pork and potatoes. They are a bit tedious to clean but the rewards are worth it. I usually dig 3-4 five gallon buckets so I have some to freeze plus I dig more for my chickens.

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  2. George on February 25, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Nice article, you beat me to the punch. I have been snacking on the bittercress as I walk to my park garden. The chickweed at the base of my compost pile is also getting nice and plump and juicy. Unlike the chickweed that seems to like good soil, I can never get bittercress to grow bigger in good soil. It does seem to do better in spoils areas. I bet it is an indicator of a soils fertility. I will have to watch for that. George

    Reply to George's comment

    • Susy on February 25, 2012 at 7:40 am

      In my garden it loves the clay areas, which haver more fertility. I’ve read that bittercress likes moist areas too, which the front hillside in my garden has in spring as well.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  3. Kathi Cook on February 25, 2012 at 7:31 am

    As a child,I used to forage wild strawberries,blueberries,hickory nuts,dandelions and mushrooms (wih a family friend). I have been wanting to learn more especially about wild mushrooms. The only wild thing I have picked recently is blueberries,and pursane (prolific in my garden). Last year I tried candied violets and introduced an army of ant parading through my house to get to them while they were drying.Purslane is supposed to be highly nutritious. Thanks for the resource list of books.

    Reply to Kathi Cook's comment

    • Susy on February 25, 2012 at 7:41 am

      I too love wild violets and dry them and make syrup in the early summer when they abound. Haven’t tried candied ones. I think I remember you mentioning the parade of ants last year when it happened!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  4. Rhonda on February 25, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Well, I’ll be darned. I had no idea! My aunt and I were talking on the phone 2 days ago and I was walking through the yard checking stuff out as I was talking to her. I noticed that plant and told her it would be nice if we could do something with it since it’s EVERYWHERE. Now I know. Gee wiz … the things you learn … :-)

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  5. Darlene on February 25, 2012 at 9:43 am

    I had no idea what that plant was,but cursed it when I weeded and got seeds exploding in my face! I let it grow and go to seed because I thought it looked like something that could be used.Now I know what to do with it!! Thanks for the info and pictures – it sure does help! Darlene

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  6. Liz J on February 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Aha! I do believe that is what is carpeting 2 rows in our garden. We tried to get rid of it, but I noticed a couple weeks ago, the lush green carpet is back ~ very interesting! Thanks Susy

    Reply to Liz J's comment

  7. Yolanda on February 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Yes, I do some foraging too. I did not know about bittercress though and will have to see if it grows around here! Dandelions, wild onions, wild black and raspberries, wild grapes (that make the most excellent jelly!), violets, black walnuts, hickory nuts. It is very satisfying and backed up by having a nice vegetable garden… it doesn’t get much better than that. :)

    Reply to Yolanda's comment

  8. KimH on February 26, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I used to really love foraging for foods but there isnt much of an opportunity for me to do so here, though I keep my eyes open all the time.
    I did make your violet honey last year after you showed us how.. that was fun.

    I used to gather poke for my grandmother, lambs quarters for my grandmother in law, and for me, watercress, mints, pecans, walnuts,dewberries, blackberries, mulberries, immature Mustang grapes (made a great apple-like pie) pears, native persimmons, horse mint, pepper weed, and purselane in North Texas.
    We had a lot of epazote too but that stuff is poison & tastes like it too.. YUk! ;) Im probably forgetting something, but it loved foraging there.

    In South Texas I used to scavenge wild bananas, mesquite beans, cactus pears, and limes. Im not sure if the kumquats I used to pick grew wild or not, but they were everywhere as were other citruses.
    We also used to gather chili pequin or petin as others call it, cilantro, and aloe vera grew all over the place too.

    There were other plants in south Texas that I used to eat as a kid including hibiscus, but I dont know what they are, but I used to eat the flowers & fruits of them.

    I often have thought that we must have a built in homing system about what is edible and not. When I was a kid, I used to wander thru the woods & fields around my house, eating as I went. How I managed to never eat anything poisonous, I’ll never know.. And how did I know what was edible? Its an amazing thing.

    Reply to KimH's comment

    • KimH on February 26, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Pepper weed is the same as pepper grass, and I also used to gather a lot of chickweed and would gather tooth ache tree bark too when needed which is prickly lime ash.

      The Tooth ache tree is wonderful and there were many a night I’d get up in the middle of the night with a flash light & go down to slice off a piece of the tender bark. Thankfully, I dont have those issues anymore. ;)

      Reply to KimH's comment

  9. Yolanda on February 26, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I checked. We do have the bittercress in our yard! And oh, yes, I forgot about persimmons and paw-paws here. What bounty!

    Reply to Yolanda's comment

    • KimH on February 26, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      Yum.. I’ve seen some paw-paws at Holden Arboretum but I havent seen them growing anywhere else.
      A guy from work did bring me a couple last year after we were talking about them & I said I’d love to try them. They were different, & tasty.

      I hear native persimmons also grown around here (NE Ohio) but I havent seen them either. I’d be out of my car, stealing bounty if I did. ;)

      Reply to KimH's comment

  10. Becky on February 26, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this! Just this afternoon I noticed that my front flowerbed was filled with weeds and I was thinking that I better start pulling them up soon. I’ve been battling this up for years and have never known what it was or that it was edible. I actually just went out with my flashlight to pick a few little plants – it has a nice spice to it. Thanks!

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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