Upland Cress: A Free Lunch!

Last summer, the state re-did the road in front of my house, in conjunction with a bridge project. As part of improving the drainage, the project had the unfortunate side-effect of emptying my well, which means a new (and much deeper!) well had to be installed.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining though!

Putting in a new well resulted in my side yard being torn up, and one thing that thrives in disturbed soils is cress. As a kid, in spring, my father would take me to gather cress, which we prepared like spinach and served with apple cider vinegar. I’ve always loved wild cress.

So in the wake of the well project, that whole area was covered in cress! Rather than tear it out and seed with grass, I let it all go to seed with waves of tiny yellow flowers. When ready, I collected thousands of seeds from it, which I will be sowing in my garden early this spring! It is best harvested young and before it goes to seed for best flavor.

There are several varieties of wild cress in North America, but this particular variety is Barbarea verna, a close relative to the mustard family, is a biennial that makes seeds every other year. Garden cress (for which you can find seeds at the store) is an annual.

In terms of flavor, wild cress species vary from barely edible to delicious. Cardamine bulbosa (also known as bitter cress) is a perennial with white flowers, that is best eaten cooked whereas the Barbarea verna variety can be eaten fresh.

So now I have thousands of seeds of a delicious wild edible I enjoyed in childhood. I can’t wait for Spring!