The Food Under Your Feet: A Look At Hairy Bittercress

“All that man needs for health and healing has been provided by God in Nature, the challenge of science is to find it.” - Philippus Theophrastrus Bombast that of Aureolus- Paracelsus (1493-1541)

Hairy Bittercress

The days are growing longer, in more ways than one. Coronavirus has many people on their toes! Mad rushes to the stores to stock up, medical masks and surgical gloves to lessen exposure, self-quarantining, and social distancing have become our temporary new norm. It’s a certain kind of strangeness.

All of this calamity has me reflecting even more so, on how divorced humanity has become from nature. People are completely unaware of the food pantry that exists right outside their backdoors. There are hundreds of edible and medicinal plants right beneath our feet, and best of all, they’re free! All this thinking has encouraged me to focus on some wildcrafting blog posts! Its an area that I wish more people studied and practiced for themselves.

If a severe crisis were ever to happen, I have some comfort in knowing that I hold some basic knowledge in being able to identify edibles in my yard. In fact, I have them growing in key locations. I love plants, and I love them growing naturally and unbound the way they’re meant to. Sure, deliberate orderly landscaping has aesthetic value, but most of the time it’s done with ornamental plants that serve no other purpose. Many cannot be utilized as a food source or host to the vital populations of necessary insects, such as our pollinator species.

Hairy Bittercress

I enjoy ethical and sustainable wildcrafting, which is a type of foraging that involves harvesting “uncultivated” plants from their natural, or 'wild' habitat, primarily for food or medicinal purposes. It applies to uncultivated plants found in wilderness areas as well as wherever else they can be found! I have plenty all over my property! I’ll be introducing a handful of them in upcoming blogs and how I utilize them!

First up....

This is Cardamine hirsuta, commonly known as Hairy Bittercress. You can find it in your yard during the early spring but it can also be found during the winter as well as all year long in some places. It is often classified as a winter annual.

I utilize it in my natural landscaping despite the fact that it is native to Europe, as far east as the Caucasus, and to North Africa. I am not a “native plants” only gardener but I do make the habit of planting 2 natives for every non-native I plant. I also manage a large field of native pollinator plants right out my back door. It is a sight to behold in the warm months when it comes to life!

Despite its diminuitive size, its quite beautiful. I like to imagine little faeries hiding among it!

Hairy Bittercress has basal rosettes of pinnate leaves; 1-3 pairs of leaflets with terminal, larger leaflet; tiny, 4-petaled white flowers in clusters at top of stems, followed by slender, upright seed capsules.

A lot of people are quick to label this plant as a weed! I personally don’t believe in weeds. I take the quote “the only difference between a flower and a weed, is judgement” to heart.❤ All living things have their reasons for existing and this makes them necessary. I always suggest its best to learn about plants first, before passing judgment.

Large mature leaves and small new leaves, both can be harvested.

It is a beneficial pollen and nectar source for some bee species, including honeybees but especially bumblebees! Be proud to keep them in your lawn alongside the dandelions. If you are into ethical sustainable wildcrafting like I am, you’ll likely already know that this plant is part of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) therefore it’s delicious!

I harvest the leaves by clipping, flowers are edible but bland, I leave them to be pollinated so my plants can reseed.

My husband and I are both vegetarians so wildcrafting fits easily into our daily eating habits. One of my favorite sandwiches to make is a Spicy Green Goddess Sloppy Joe. However, with the recent Covid-19 on the loose, I have not dared to go grab hamburger buns, keeping life simple with regular bread and lots of flour to make my own should I need to. As of right now, we have all that we need and there is no way I want to get stuck in long lines at the grocery store.

It has a 12 week life cycle so if left undisturbed, this plant is a prolific grower and you'll likely have a great patch of it, in under a single season. Keep in mind, as an aggressive grower, you will have to maintain this patch and keep it from spreading. Best way to do so is by uprooting it. I suggest never using chemicals around plants you intend to also eat, or harvest plants that may have been treated. If you don't know, do not eat. Never harvest any plant from private property without permission and harvest from protected lands and even parks is usually against the laws. Always check before picking. I encourage everyone to practice ethical and sustainable wildcrafting- take a little and leave a lot! Never eat any plant that you do not recognize.

Whenever you are next out hiking, take a moment, look around at your surroundings, see if you can recognize the edibles that exist right at your feet!!!!

How many edibles can you spot?

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes or otherwise, please consult a physician, medical herbalist or other suitable professional for advice.

Next wildcraft blog post will feature a favorite of mine: Purple Dead Nettle

Can you spot the dead nettle?


Sources & Additional Reading:

Weed of the Month: Hairy Bittercress


Wildcrafting for Future Generations Early Season Pollinator Plants

Hairy Bittercress: A Mustard with Momentum!

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