Lady's Smock - Cardamine pratensis

Main features

  • Leaves grow from a basal rosette

  • Pairs of rounded coarsely-toothed leaflets up each leaf stem

  • Terminal rounded coarsely-toothed leaflet

  • Common wildflower of meadows

  • Found spring to autumn

  • Tastes like cress with a slight chilli-like heat

  • Tall flower stalk to 60cm with pink/lilac flowers

  • Long thin seed pods

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

Find a foraging course

Lady's Smock - Cardamine pratensis

Edible plant - novice

Other common names: Milkmaids, Bread and Milk, Cuckoo Flower, Mayflower, Cuckoo Bread

 

Scientific name meaning: The greek word Kardamon, which means "cress-like", is the origin of the genus name Cardamine. Pratensis means "of the meadow"

Season Spring to Autumn

Habitat - where will I find it? A native of Europe, Lady's Smock can be found in Asia and North America. It likes to grow in damp grassland, marshes, grass verges, watersides

Description - what does it look like? Lady's Smock is a low growing small plant. Its green leaves grow from a basal rosette. Each leaf is made up of pairs of rounded coarsely-toothed leaflets growing along the stalk, and terminating in a rounded coarsely-toothed leaflet. 

As the plant matures, Lady's Smock puts  flower stalks that can reach up to 60cm in height. However, it is usually much shorter.  

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

Lady's Smock usually flowers between April and June

Possible lookalikes Lady's Smock 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 Lady's Smock is a brassica, and therefore a relative of mustards. It has a lovely cress-like flavour with a chilli-like heat to it, which livens up a salad. All parts of Lady's Smock can be eaten, but the flower stalk is quite woody

Use in herbal medicine Although not well-used in herbal remedies, Lady's Smock has been used as an appetite stimulant, stimulant, digestive aid, and diuretic. It has also been used to treat scurvy, asthma, skin conditions and hysteria
If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Hazards Lady's Smock is not known by the author to be toxic

Importance to other species The flowers provide an important 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!