Hairy Bittercress: Tastier than it sounds

One of my favourite spring greens is Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), this small unassuming plant is usually ignored, except by fastidious gardeners for whom it is an irritating weed. Sadly, such dismissal misses out on a very tasty salad leaf. Hairy bittercress, as John Wright declares, is neither particularly hairy, not is bitter, it certainly has a cress-like quality though, with fiery hints of rocket and watercress as well.

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It’s easy to identify, found commonly in gardens on fresh soil, but also in wild locations on bare and disturbed earth and available throughout the year. Look out for a small rosette of leaves reaching about 10cm across; leaf stalks have several pairs of rounded leaflets ending in a single, terminal leaflet, which are sparsely hairy on the upper surface.

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Tiny, white flowers are produced on long upright stalks, along with slender, elongated seed pods, which explode when mature, spraying seeds throughout the vicinity, helping the plant to spread and making it the bane of fastidious gardeners.

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There are various other similar bittercresses, such as the large bittercress (Cardamine amara), which is, unsurprisingly larger, and also hairless. They are edible too, so not much risk of confusion with anything harmful. Hairy bittercress is rich in Vitamins A and C and contains calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, so get out there and try some!

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