Hairy bittercress salad

Harvesting Hairy Bittercress Greens and Flowers

The mustards are quick to show up after the worst of winter has passed.

Last week I noticed the hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), a tiny member of the mustard family, sending up its white four-petaled blooms. Four petals in the shape of a cross is typical for the mustards, leaf shape is often similar in the family as well, and most of the wild mustards are edible.

You’ll be hard-pressed to see the “hairs” on the leaves of hairy bittercress unless you look very closely with a magnifying glass, or have a good, clear photo you can enlarge. A few are just visible on the image below, but you’ll never notice them otherwise.

Just picked hairy bittercress
Just harvested hairy bittercress (if you look closely, you can see the hairs on some of the leaves)

Early this week I stopped in a sunny spot on the mountain to harvest bittercress — which is absolutely everywhere — for salads.

Because we’ve had so much rain, the rosettes want to hang on to a lot of mud at the base, but five or six good water baths in the kitchen sink got most of that out.

Hairy bittercress washed rosette
Hairy bittercress washed rosette. You want to cut out the root ball.

After washing them well, I used kitchen scissors to cut off the root and base of the plants, then rinsed the loosened stems, leaves, and flowers in a colander. I still needed to pick through it to get a few more stems of grass and pine needles out.

Washed bittercress in colander
Washed bittercress in colander

It took less than five minutes to harvest enough for salads for four of us, and including dried cherries, carrots, and almonds made for a lovely meal.

It’s possible the flavor changes as the seasons progress, but despite the name, we didn’t find our bittercress salads bitter at all!

Hairy bittercress salad
Hairy bittercress salad

Note: Never eat a wild plant unless you are certain of its identification and safety! Do your research, consult an expert, and of course, if a patch is small, don’t take them all.

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