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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:

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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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