Hairy Bitter-cress (Cardamine hirsuta) is another early blooming, tiny member of the Mustard (Brassicaceae) family. Native to parts of Europe and Asia, this weedy annual now grows in much of the United States. At just a few inches tall, you'll benefit from the use of a magnifying glass when trying to observe the features of this plant.
Early in the year, from a cluster of pinnately divided, basal leaves, this hairy plant pushes up a stalk with alternating leaves and terminal white flowers which bloom and then develop into slender seed pods. The leaves, tender young shoots, flowers, and seeds are all edible and packed with a spicy-bitter, peppery punch. Eating just a single inch-long leaf left an impression on my palette for over an hour. This strong flavor makes Hairy Bitter-cress a good candidate to be mixed with other flavors as a salad component or treated as a wild condiment.
In years past, I've foraged the roots (for herbal vinegars and tinctures) and young leaves (for eating) of Curly Dock (Rumex crispus), and this spring I finally sampled the shoots of this perennial plant. When stalks are 1-2' tall, but before they contain flower buds, I use the bend-test to select stalks with thick, flexible tops. Once peeled, the vegetable looks much like a Wild Carrot shoot. Don't be alarmed if you encounter some slime during processing, that's normal. In my experience, these are mostly available in late May and early June. Jenny and I enjoyed them raw and found them to be crisp with a slight sour fruitiness similar to Smooth Sumac shoots. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
Curly Dock stalk
Leaves and emerging stalk
Stalks ready for the bend test
Shoots are gathered before flower buds (shown here) appear
Grasshopper on Curly Dock
Common Evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis) has several edible parts.* In June, plants who are sending up a stalk in preparation for flowering and fruiting are the source of tasty edible shoots. Similar to the shoots of many other plants (e.g., Wild Carrot, Common Burdock, Common Greenbrier), I snap off the growing tops where they bend easily. For raw eating of this species, I peel off the hairy outer part of the shoot and most of the leaves. If cooking, I simply remove the large leaves, and prepare as desired. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
Note the hairy stem
A rapidly growing leafy stalk
Growing alongside Common Dandelion, another edible “weed”
Leaf mid-veins are often pink
*I've previously discussed the roots, flower buds and flowers, as well as how to recognize this species in the white season.
Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) is a weedy plant of European origin who thrives in disturbed soil. Here in southern Maine, I most often find Wild Radish at the beach, growing above the high-tide line alongside American Sea-rocket, Saltwort, Beach Rose, and Beach Vetchling. Flowering plants stand about 2 feet tall and are topped with yellow, 4-parted flowers. On sunny days, Cabbage White butterflies frequently visit the blossoms. Continue reading Foraging Wild Greens: Wild Radish
Common Burdock (Arctium minus) is a biennial well known for having sticky burs and an earthy, edible taproot. As is typical with biennials, the root of this species becomes tough and woody when the plant moves stored energy reserves up to a developing flower stalk (typically in the spring of year two). The result is a leafy stem with flowers and ultimately seeds. In late spring and early summer, the tender, rapidly growing portion of Common Burdock's stalk can be harvested, peeled and eaten raw or cooked. I peel these shoots by hand, then touch them up by scraping them clean with a sharp knife. Continue reading Foraging Wild Shoots: Common Burdock