Saturday, March 28, 2015

Looks like winter takes another shot at us

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market! I know this post is a few days late but; here it is a somewhat short but intriguing look into the greater world of the natural and as this week’s topic is about another weed that you likely did not know you could eat.

Cardamine hirsuta – Hairy Bittercress

The hairy bittercress is a common cold-season weed that is considered to be a short-lived annual. There are dozens of regional varieties of this plant with minor at best differences scattered across the continent. None of them are known to be poisonous but you should consult an expert before you eat anything and keep a good guide to edible weeds handy that has high quality photographs to avoid any error. With that said this article focuses on the Hairy Bittercress which is common to the Sandhills region and is very visible in most yards right now.  The first thing you should know is that Hairy Bittercress is a member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) and will occasionally show up in older weed guides using the old name for the cabbage family which is cruciferae. In comparison to the cabbage family members we know Hairy Bittercress is as noted before, it’s short lived and the harvesting window is incredibly short if foraged in nature. The seed can be collected, and a potentially easier and longer living crop can be grown. 

But about that name “Bitter Cress”, it doesn’t seem particularly tasty now does it? The truth is that the harvesting window for this plant is short, as with a fair number of cabbage family members once the plant blooms it goes bitter. So of course bitter cress when first encountered was probably picked and tasted after it flowered and thus the misleading name. The leaves are the part you eat, and they are equally edible raw in a salad or cooked gently to maintain their somewhat spicy cress-like flavor which is where the rest of the plant’s name originates from. I’ve heard of this plant’s leaves being used as a garnish with something savory or with a baked meat item. As always I advise you try a little bit of this plant first before making a large pot of stewed greens and then try a large helping. It might not be to your taste or you might have an unexpected reaction. As with any forage weed, it is wise to play it safe.

Now for a third and more interesting use, as it turns out, this weed is a magnet for Aphids, probably because what makes it eventually bitter, and provides that spicy cress flavor might serve as a chemical defense against predation of the aphids. For those of us who like to keep things organic, these little weeds are excellent as a trap crop to lure in pests for eradication wholesale by either an organic non-chemical insecticide or by means of the natural predators which will eventually follow in the aphid’s trail.
That wraps up our short post for this week. Next week we’ll have the last installment of the weeds you can eat series, and by then the last of the winter storm damage will have been cleaned up at the test gardens so we will have a before and after photo for your viewing amazement. As a final note at the end of April Sustainable neighbors will have the 3rd Annual Sustainable Garden Tour. Who will be on the tour and want delights will be shown this year? Stay tuned and find out.

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