Spring greens: peppergrass.

peppercress.JPGWild greens, anyone?

Early spring is the time to switch from sweet roots and spices to bittersharp new shoots and leaves. Time for cool air and new light after warm dark hibernation.

Peppergrass is one of my favorite spring greens. It’s also called “pepper cress” and “poor man’s pepper,” and it’s sprouting up all over my yard right now.

Young peppergrass leaves can be used anywhere you might use watercress. I like them mixed in scrambled eggs with a few wild onions. The flowers are tasty too (I saw one little plant blooming already) and the seeds can be sprinkled on food as a sharp, mustardy seasoning (“poor man’s pepper”).

UPDATE: I originally posted that this peppergrass was a Lepidium species. AnneTanne and Tammy pointed out that it looks a lot like Cardamine hirsuta. Now that I look at it, I’m convinced it’s a Cardamine, but I’m not sure which one (cresses are notoriously hard to identify). Calling it Lepidium was just lazy and spaced-out on my part — I do have a lot of Lepidiums in my yard, and I call them peppergrass too. So I had peppergrass = Lepidium in my head, and I didn’t bother to look it up. Live and learn.

(I grew up calling all peppery little cresses “peppergrass.” Perhaps I should teach myself some new common names to alleviate the species confusion? Alright. Cardamines are “bittercress” and Lepidiums are “peppercress.” Maybe I’ll try that. In any case, they’re all tasty in salad.)

32 Comments »

  1. Tammy said,

    March 9, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

    This is one of my favorites!! I just discovered and identified it for the first time last fall, and now it is flowering everywhere. I added a bunch to our salad tonight. I always call it bittercress. Others I know call it cukoo flower.

  2. Sally said,

    March 10, 2008 @ 8:58 am

    We still have 3 ft. of snow covering everything (and a foot of ice under that). My biological clock says “spring”, but my eyes see “winter”. This is the time for sour or bitter to clean out our blood. Looks like it’ll be another month for us though.

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    March 10, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

    Tammy — That’s one of my favorite things about common plants like this… they have so many lovely names!

    Sally — Yes, my friends up in Vermont are still under the snow too. Don’t worry, it’ll melt before long! I know what you mean about sour and bitter, but I’m always careful not to use the word “clean” in this context, because I don’t want to give people the idea that their bodies are “dirty” somehow. (I try to avoid reinforcing those subtle Puritan tendencies our culture has…)

  4. Jan S. said,

    March 11, 2008 @ 8:38 am

    I see from the view out your kitchen window that Spring has come to West Virginia! I confess to being a tad jealous. You are right about the snow in Vermont Rebecca, and Sally, I sympathize. The snow banks in front of our house are so high, my dog climbed one she could look across to our porch roof. That means there is about 8 feet or so of hard, dense, frozen, ice and snow between where she was standing and our purple crocus! Even out away from the mamouth snowbanks, there is close to 4 feet of hard enough to walk on, frozen white stuff!. I suppose it will be a while before I am collecting fresh greens, but how sweet that time will be when it comes! The price we pay to live in Vermont I suppose. When the snow does melt, should I expect to find peppergrass in Sharon, Vermont?

  5. crabappleherbs said,

    March 11, 2008 @ 9:02 am

    That’s really quite some serious snow, Jan, even for Vermont!

    Yes, I think you will find peppergrass or one of its close relatives where you are. The Lepidium genus is rather ubiquitous.

    Here are the USDA Plants database maps of Lepidium species ranges (these are always just estimates, of course):

    http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=LEPID

    (Speaking of names, the USDA seems to call it “pepperweed.”)

  6. AnneTanne said,

    March 11, 2008 @ 9:04 am

    This looks very much like our European Cardamine hirsuta (‘kleine veldkers’ in Dutch, meaning ‘small fieldcress’). You find pictures of this herb on my blog.
    Also the European Barbarea vulgaris (Barbara kruid, Winterkers – Barbarawort, wintercress), another member of the Brassicaceae, has the same kind of foliage.

    Both herbs are very welcome as salad greens in late winter and early spring. I also use them to make a ‘winter pesto’, and add them to herb-pancakes (made with buckwheatflour)

  7. Tammy said,

    March 11, 2008 @ 9:30 am

    Actually I just noticed the latin name of Lepidium. The ones I have, which look about identical, are Cardamine Hirsuta, http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=CAHI3 . I just assumed they were the same by the picture. Well, that accounts for the different names I have for this plant :-)

  8. crabappleherbs said,

    March 11, 2008 @ 9:52 am

    Well, now. Looking at the USDA photos, I think that this little one might be Cardamine hirsuta as well! I have to do some more detective work when I have a little more time… perhaps this afternoon. I do have all sorts of little mustards and cresses around here, and I’d identified a lot of them as Lepidiums last summer, so I was thinking of them all in that category. Sigh. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve identified this one properly. (The nice thing about common names, of course, is that peppergrass is peppergrass. I grew up calling all these sharp little cresses peppergrass, and that still holds regardless of the Latin name!)

  9. rich said,

    March 11, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

    what is the other plant in the upper left called?

  10. crabappleherbs said,

    March 11, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

    OK — Thank you AnneTanne and Tammy! It is indeed a Cardamine of some sort (see the update I added to the post).

    Jan — Here’s the equivalent link for Cardamines / bittercresses, if you’re interested:

    http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=CARDA

    AnneTanne — Cress and buckwheat pancakes sound lovely! I’ll have to try that. Do you use a thick or a thin batter? (Oh, and yes, these cresses make lovely pesto.)

    Rich — The plant in the upper left of the photo is a deadnettle (Lamium spp.). It’s another one that comes up everywhere this time of year.

  11. AnneTanne said,

    March 12, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

    I think you can call it a thin batter. I have the impression that European pancakes are much thinner than American ones, when I see the latter on pictures.
    My recipe (I try to convert the units):

    150 gr buckwheat flour (5.3 ounce)
    100 gr whole wheat flour (3.5 ounce)
    a pinch of salt.

    beat 2 eggs with a bottle of beer (I’m Belgian after all ;-) – instead of beer you can use a cup of sparkling water)
    mix with the flour, and add milk until you have a batter ‘en ruban’ (a batter that drips from the spoon as if it were a ribbon)

    Leave it for half an hour. Now you can pick your herbs. I pick a large saladbowl full of spring green: dandelion leaves (lots of them), all kinds of cresses, rocket, yellow rocket… chick weed, yarrow leaves, a very small amount of common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) – never more than 2 or 3 leaves, a handfull of chives, or wild garlic, or bear’s garlic, or….
    Chop the herbs, and mix with the batter… eventually, you can add some more milk if the batter is too thick now.

  12. Sarah in VA said,

    March 13, 2008 @ 8:40 am

    Thank you for the post, my kids and I have been nibbling this stuff for about a week now and I kept meaning to look it up and find a few recipes to bring it into the kitchen…I was thinking of using it for a cream of watercress soup. I love the idea of omlets and salads too.
    When my 6 yo introduced it to the 3yo picky eater she proudly came to tell me ” It tastes like food!”

  13. Leanne said,

    March 14, 2008 @ 9:14 am

    Thank you! I’ve been trying to correctly identify every little wild thing in my yard (with the exception of my toddler), and I just haven’t been able to put my finger on this one. Your blog is wonderful.

  14. crabappleherbs said,

    March 16, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

    AnneTanne — That sounds so tasty! I’ll have to try it soon.

    Sarah — That quote is priceless. It does indeed taste like food!

    Leanne — Thank you!

  15. Belle said,

    March 17, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

    I was excited to see this post today. I found some in my greenhouse yesterday and couldn’t decide if it was a weed or part of the lettuces I had planted. It didn’t quite look like lettuce, but I liked the peppery flavor so I threw some in the salad. Yum.

  16. Sarah Head said,

    March 27, 2008 @ 7:12 am

    Hi Anne

    I’m sorry I don’t speak dutch, so I hope you get this message! I tried to leave this on your blog, but I can’t understand your antispam mechanisms!

    I love your recipe for buckwheat and spring greens pancakes and I wondered if you would mind if I posted the recipe on the UK Herb Society forum.

    Many thanks

    Sarah

    P.S. Thanks Rebecca for your blog and for the Forum – it’s wonderful!

  17. crabappleherbs said,

    April 3, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

    Belle — It’s a tasty one, isn’t it?

    Sarah — Did you succeed in getting in touch with AnneTanne?

  18. Robin Rose Bennett said,

    April 8, 2008 @ 10:59 pm

    Hi Rebecca!

    I have this little spicy green all over my land, too and love it…and believe it is cardamine hirsute. the first time I saw it a few years ago was in the wettest part of our land and I thought it was watercress. Well, it’s a cress, anyway. thanks for ther USDA link. today I saw the first flowers, it’s almost too small to gather any, but the key word there is almost!! It’s yummy in just about anything…am so enjoying the first wild greens of the season…this weekend I gathered and sauteed some nettles, this cress, garlic mustard, some tiny dandelion leaves, a garlic scape or 2 and tomato slices in olive oil, added some shitake vinegar and fresh marjoram then topped ‘em with some kefir and opened 2 eggs on top, cooked sunnyside…it was a VERY well received breakfast!

    And you say it makes great pesto, too? that’s exciting! do you use another green with it, or on it’s own?

    Happy Spring and Green Blessings, Robin

  19. crabappleherbs said,

    April 9, 2008 @ 9:58 pm

    Hi Robin!

    The pesto I do is very very simple — just peppercress, salt, olive oil, and garlic whizzed in the blender. It’s incredible as a dip for bread, a sauce for vegetables, or even on pasta like basil pesto!

  20. Robin Rose Bennett said,

    April 9, 2008 @ 11:13 pm

    I will try this for sure…I like incredibly simple…thanks!

  21. carolyn said,

    July 13, 2008 @ 7:35 am

    Hi

    I am looking for the correct spelling or some information on an “Herb” Weed or something many Creole’s used for Healing here in Louisiana all of my relatives call it Mongllea’ or Mongreea’ I really can’t spell but they all describe it as a weed that grows wild/ smells bad/ but helps Knock the socks off Herb or of a Cold and other aliments.

    I don’t know weather it in an African or an Herb from the Indians

    Any information would be helpful

    carolyn

  22. crabappleherbs said,

    July 16, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

    Hi Carolyn.

    I don’t know the plant you’re looking for by name. Could you get a description of it?

  23. kb said,

    March 31, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

    Appreciated the ‘clear’ photo…to think I have been pulling up the pepercress and, well, you know. I am working on learning to identify plants and utilize them in my recipes…for better or worse. Lots of folks talk about specific plants but if you don’t have a clue what they look like…hmmm, you can’t use them. When I am in doubt, I chop them up and add them to soups, stews, or sauces rather than raw in a salad. Thanks for the time and effort you put into this site. kb

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