Weeds You Can Eat: Little Western Bittercress and Young Dandelions
I’ve developed this irrepressible urge to forage, though my horse chestnut encounter did leave me a bit chastened. I’m also craving garden-fresh greens in the gray of winter, which has been quite balmy of late here, with young weeds and early crocuses starting to blossom.
We’ve had clumps of this clover-like weed erupting in bare non-grassy areas all over the garden. They’re easy to pull, with shallow roots, never much bothering me before. But it turns out these clumps–Little Western Bittercress–are edible! Suddenly, those ubiquitous weeds become less pesky. Thanks to the writings of fellow food blogger (and Master Gardener) Culinaria Eugenius, I was finally able to identify this spicy-sweet greenery. This Oregon State site made me even more confident that I’d identified it correctly. Bittercress: what a marvelous little plant, a peppery, mustardy, watercress-like Brassica relative. Tiny micro-greens that look and taste just like ones chefs pay a fortune for, an otherwise nuisance growing for free.
I wonder to what degree our tastes can guide us in discerning what weeds are o.k. to eat. The bittercress felt right, radish crisp. Dandelion, on the other hand, is so bitter I would assume it poisonous if I didn’t know otherwise. But its tannic flavor mellows with fat and blander flavors, like potatoes or a mild cheese. The greens were stunning in this pizza with fontina cheese. And Mark Bittman recommends them in his Green Mashed Potatoes, which Culinaria Eugenius also recommended. I whipped up a batch, but didn’t use enough olive oil or have enough greens: they should match the potatoes in a 50-50 ratio. But I think I’ll save my little bittercress for salads. I want to enjoy this fresh from the garden foraged find raw.