23 February 2016
Peppercress: An early spring edible
Have you seen peppercress yet?
The appearance of daffodils and crocus is certainly one of the lovely heralds of spring. Right around this time, my heart also flutters at my first glimpse of peppercress, poking between the cracks in the pavement or peeking out at the edge of my gardens. In the liminal time between the burrowed, reclusive months of winter and the resurgence of the green, peppercress’ tiny white flowers seem so appropriate: fragile, yet determined. I feel hopeful.
Peppercress is one of the first of the wild edibles to reveal herself to us after the dormant season. She’s a member of a very large and distinguished family—brassicacae, formerly known as cruciferae—that includes distant relatives such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, collards and cauliflower, as well as closer kin, like mustard greens.
When you know the family connections of wild plants, that lineage will often give you clues to their nutritional and medicinal properties. Brassicacae are almost universally edible and once you become familiar with their traits, you can safely try them to see if you like the flavor.
Brassicacae generally have alternate leaves. Their flowers have 4 petals and, inside the flower, you will find six stamens: 4 tall and 2 short—a distinctive characteristic of the family. The seedpods occur in a radial pattern around the stalk. In the case of peppercress, they are very long, thin and green, like a mustard seed.
Peppercress is a weedy, social plant; it grows in borders and yards, so you don’t have go foraging in the woods to find it. I love to enjoy its peppery bite, as a snack by itself or in the first wild-crafted salads of the year, mixed with some chickweed, which is also an early arrival.
Keep an eye out for peppercress’ tentative tendrils, pushing forward towards the newborn sun and invite her to your table. Her pungent flavor will wake up your taste buds and remind you that greener days are, indeed, on the way.