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Hairy bittercress - Cardamine hirsuta

Hairy bittercress - Cardamine hirsuta - foraging identification

Main features

  • Leaves grow from a basal rosette

  • Pairs of palmate leaflets up each leaf stem

  • Terminal palmate leaflet

  • 8 to 12 week growth cycle

  • Common garden weed - likes disturbed earth

  • Found all year round - peak later winter to spring

  • Tastes like cress

  • Tall flower stalk with small white flowers

  • Long thin seed pods

  • Possible confusion with other Cardamine species, all of which are edible, or Watercress, which is edible but must be cooked

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Hairy bittercress - Cardamine hirsuta

Edible plant - novice

Other common names: Hoary Bittercress, Flick Weed, Lamb's Cress, Hot Weed, Spring Cress


Scientific name meaning: The greek word Kardamon, which means "cress-like", is the origin of the genus name Cardamine. Hirsuta is derived from the latin hirsutus, meaning "somewhat hairy". This is in reference to the leaves' hairs

Habitat - where will I find it? A native of Europe and Asia, Hairy bittercress can now be found in most countries. It likes to grow on disturbed earth, garden borders, open ground, pavement cracks, plant pots, grassland, and, pretty much any bit of soil its seeds land on

Description - what does it look like? Hairy bittercress is a low growing small plant. Its green leaves grow from a basal rosette. Each leaf is made up of pairs of palmate leaflets growing along the stalk, and terminating in a palmate leaf. The leaflets have a covering of tiny hairs. 

The basal rosette is easier to see in younger specimens before mass leaf growth makes it more difficult to see without separating the leaves out.

As the plant matures, Hairy Bittercress puts  flower stalks that can reach up to 30cm in height. However, it is usually much shorter. The leaves on the flower stalk still have leaflets in pairs, but they are much narrower than the basal rosette leaves. 

The flower stalks produce flower heads  containing a small group of white flowers with a cruciform petal arrangement (four petals in a cross shape). Eventually those flowers become long thin seed pods. 

Hairy bittercress is a very successful plant and, in the UK, will go through its life cycle several times during the year. However, it is at its peak during late winter and early spring, making it a useful plant for foragers

Possible lookalikes Hairy bittercress could be confused with other members of the Cardamine genus. However, all of them are edible. It may also be confused with young Watercress (Nastertium officinale), which is also edible, but remember that plants growing in waterways in the UK should be cooked first to reduce parasite risk

Use as a food Hairy Bittercress is a brassica, and therefore a relative of mustards. It has a lovely cress-like flavour to add to a salad and, like cress, works very well with scrambled eggs or egg mayonnaise. All parts of Hairy bittercress can be eaten, but the flower stalk is quite woody

Use in herbal medicine There is some circumstantial evidence that Hairy bittercress may have anti-tumour properties. 
If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Hazards Hairy bittercress is not known by the author to be toxic

Importance to other species The flowers provide an early source of nectar for pollinators

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

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