Whitlow Pepperwort

15th May 2013

The Sloe blossom is now falling from the trees, the Cow Parsley is in full flower, the Hawthorn blossom is about to explode into flower at any moment and the Elder flower buds are developing. All this heralds that spring is advancing towards summer and a sign that the countryside has began to catch up after its very late start.

This year seems to be a record year for Dandelions, and despite my best attempts to remove them by making Dandelion honey there were so many I am having a go at making Dandelion Flower wine, which is currently fermenting away. However, some things that were abundant just a few weeks ago have either disappeared or are now too far advanced to use.  The Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara flowers have now all gone to seed, and have been replaced with the leaves.

Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara

The Bramble Rubus fructicosus shoots are now starting to toughen up and develop their prickles and the Clematis Clematis vitalba shoots have now reached the stage where the Protoamenonin levels in them mean they should be avoided.  For some plants like this, the window of opportunity is very short and if you miss it you need to wait until the following year.

However, there is plenty new stuff coming through.  Hoary Cress or Whitlow Pepperwort Lepidium draba has shot up out of nowhere over the last few weeks and is just coming into flower.

Hoary Cress Lepidium draba

This member of the brassica family was introduced into the UK in the 19th century. It’s heart shaped seeds have a little hook on them which is intended to allow them to attach themselves to passing people and animals in a similar way to Cleavers and Burdock.  Soldiers returning from the Netherlands after the Walcheren campaign in 1809 supposedly brought back the seeds to Kent in their bedding and the plant spread from there.  As well as spreading its self by its seeds, the roots have the ability to produce root buds and it means that the plant can now be found commonly across southern Britain on roadsides, field edges, wasteland and railway embankments.

It is an untidy, straggly plant.  The slightly toothed, greyish-green leaves clasp the stem which can grow up to about 90cm tall. It has dense clusters of small white cress like flowers in May and June.

It has been used as a food in both America and northern and central Europe. It has a peppery flavour and is closely related to Garden Cress L. sativum which is what is in the “mustard and cress” you put in egg sandwiches. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads, fried in butter, or chopped finely and added to soups and sauces. The unopened flower heads which are around at the moment can be cooked like broccoli and the seeds can be collected green and dried and used as a pepper substitute.

Members of this family were commonly used to prevent scurvy because of their high vitamin C content and they also contain vitamins A, B and E.

Related Course : Foraging Courses.

Kev Palmer


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