There are plenty of signs of new life in the garden at the moment, with bulbs pushing up and buds fattening up. And the surface of the compost in my containers is turning green. This precocious leafy growth is courtesy of hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta, a small and speedy weed that’s pretty much everywhere.
It’s a hard weed to avoid. Not only does it commonly hitch a ride home in plants we buy in garden centres, but it can be found in flower all through the year. Those flowers are self-pollinated, and the resulting seedpods hold around 20 seeds. An average plant sheds 600 seeds, but a large one may drop several thousand. Plants can bear pods for eight months of the year.
The shed seeds don’t generally germinate when they’re fresh. They pods dry out in warm weather, and then explode to propel seeds up to a metre, when they’re disturbed by wind or weeding. When it’s wet, seeds become sticky and can stick to tools and clothes.
Hairy bittercress can complete its lifecycle in five or six weeks. Seedlings can survive the severest frost.
So, you see, you’re never going to eradicate this one from the garden! For some reason, in my garden it prefers the containers to the raised beds.
But…these delicate little plants are edible, and find their home in the Brassica family. They have the characteristic spicy taste of a brassica, which reduces on cooking. They’re very easy to identify, with their low-growing rosette of small leaves (which aren’t actually hairy), and upright candelabra-style, tiny white flowers.
They’re also easy to weed out – simply grasp the base of the rosette with your fingers and pull and – in friable soil, at least – they come away quite easily. It’s also easy to simply nip off the roots with your fingers and bring the leafy rosettes back into the kitchen. After a wash it can be used in a salad like rocket, or cooked as a mustardy green. We threw ours in for the last few minutes of cooking a risotto, and really enjoyed it 🙂
If you’re trying to rid your garden of hairy bittercress then you’re going to be hoeing and hand-pulling all year round. Why not make the most of the effort, and (b)eat your weeds?
Previous posts in the (B)eat your weeds series: