Wintercress: Year Round Wild Edible


I try to discuss edibles that are in season in and around the St. John’s area, but the weather has stalled my hiking plans.  Today was a rare exception which allowed me to scope out what’s available.

On my hike around Signal Hill this evening, the only thing brighter than the elusive sun was the brilliant yellow flowers of wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris).  In Latin, vulgaris means common and this plant is definitely plentiful and noticeable.  A member of the mustard family, it thrives in disturbed, moist areas such as road sides and fields.

Depending on what you are after, this plant may be available to you year round.  Seeds germinate in fall and develop into a rosette.  The leaves are long and lobed, and are one of the few greens available through out winter.  Leaves can be harvested any time they look fresh.

Raw leaves are bitter.  They can be used to add a kick to a salad or a sandwich, or used to enhance strong flavoured foods like cheeses and cured meats.  Leaves can be boiled for a few minutes to remove the bitterness, and then used like spinach.

In late spring, flower stems begin to grow.  Harvest the top few inches of the stems and flower clusters before the flowers open and eat them like rapini, or like mini-broccolis.  Again, boiling is recommended to remove the bitterness.  Drizzling them with lemon juice and olive oil also helps.  They can also be mixed with other strongly flavoured foods, or turned into a cream soup.  Currently, we are nearing the end of this growing stage so get foraging, RDF or shine!

The lemon coloured flowers are plentiful at this moment and easy to spot.  They can be used fresh to add a splash of colour and flavour to salads or as a garnish.  Dried, they also make a naturally sweet tea.

Like other mustards, dry seeds can be collected and used as a spice or used for sprouting.  Collect seeds when the pods begin to turn brown and dry out.  Sow seeds in and around your veggie gardens in the fall for a plant that can be used year round.

So if this weather has you feeling gray, go grab some wintercress and add some zing to your life!