Winter Cress (Barbarea Vulgaris) also known as Yellow Rocket is one of the most commonly found winter wild edible plants. The leaves are available all year round, even in the winter, especially if the weather is mild.
Winter is a tough time for foragers stuck in a northern climate zone. Leaves have fallen and are buried underneath the snow. Berries, if there are any left in the bushes, tend to look wrinkled and listless. Nuts have long been gathered and stored for later use and those that were left on the ground are now riddled with worms. What is a forager to do? Well, the first and best thing is to make a beeline for the pantry, where hopefully, you will find jars filled with delicious remnants of last summer’s delights. Jams, pickles and chutneys will bring back happy memories of roaming through the countryside, picking the gifts of the Earth for drearier times to come – like these drab old winter days.
Each happy mouthful of these treasures will set you dreaming, not just reminiscing about the joys of the past, but also of those to come. Winter Solstice is here, and that means, even though it does not seem like it, that spring is nearer than we think. Another 3 months at the most and we’ll be off again, picking salad herbs and enjoying the first gifts of spring.
Though those of us, who don’t live in the permafrost zone may be lucky enough to find a few things that are hardy even through the winter. The cresses, for example, are classic northern plants, perfectly adapted to such inhospitable climatic conditions.
Most notably I am thinking of the wintercress, Barbarea vulgaris, a rocket with typical rocket leaves and flowers. If the climate is not too severe, this plant can be found and collected throughout the winter. Sometimes it even stays green underneath the snow. Wintercress is rich in vitamin C and A, and was a typical ‘anti-scurvy’ plant in the days before vitamin C became readily available throughout the year in northern climate zones. If you don’t spot its large-leaved, deeply lobed rosette in the winter months, you will probably notice it as one of the first herbs that pop up in spring.
The leaves are best before the plant starts to flower while they are still young and tender. At this stage they can be chopped up and added to salads like rucola, which has a similar tang. As they get older they get tougher, quite bitter and tangier, but can still be used like a spinach type vegetable. Although this makes for quite a mouthful of intense flavor if served by itself, it is a great herb to add to other, blander potherbs to which they add a little zing. Some people recommend boiling the herb in several changes of water, but I think that would destroy much of their nutritional benefit. Better to use less and blend with other, less flavorful herbs.
Winter Cress has the unusual habit of growing vigorously during warm periods in winter and it derived its Latin name Barbarea from the fact that its young leaves are green and can be eaten on St. Barbara’s day, in early December.
The young foliage and new young stems, while still tender, are quite as good a potherb as dandelion-greens, having a similar bitter quality. They should be cooked in two or more waters, the first water removing the strongest bitter. In Canada the young leaves are eaten as a salad, but they are too bitter for the average palate.
- Flower Buds
The leaves are highly nutritious sources of B vitamins, calcium, potassium, and fiber. Unlike many plants, the flowers are a good source of protein. By the time the stalks appear, the leaves are too bitter to eat, but the flower buds, when they appear look and taste like broccoli and are quite good. The flowers themselves are also edible.
Young leaves – raw or cooked like spinach. A hot cress-like flavor. Young leaves are chopped up finely and added to salads, older leaves can be used as a potherb but they are rather strong and are best cooked in one or two changes of water. The leaves are available all year round, even in the winter, especially if the weather is mild.
To increase the productivity of the plants, remove the flowering stems as they appear (they can be eaten like the leaves) and pick the outer leaves as the plant regrows. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. Young flowering stems – harvested before the flowers open and cooked like broccoli.
Note: There are some studies which indicate Wintercress may cause kidney malfunction, and should not be taken internally. I cannot attest to this, as I have eaten this herb for quite some time. I would recommend eating it with care.
The plant is said to possess anti-carcinogenic properties. Cherokee Indians used a tea brewed from the aerial parts as a blood purifier. Also used as an appetite stimulator. Europeans used poulticed leaves to treat wounds.
Bread Spread with Wintercress
- 1 egg (hard boiled)
- ½ onion finely minced
- 30g mayonnaise
- 100g wintercress finely chopped
- salt, pepper to taste
Blend the egg and the mayonnaise to make a paste, add the onion, wintercress, salt and pepper. If you don’t like mayonnaise try crème fraiche, instead.
- 250g wintercress
- Knob of butter
- 1 onion
- 20g sugar or honey
- Salt, pepper, coriander, bay laurel, cloves
Wash and chop the wintercress. Sauté with the minced onion and spices with just a little butter. Add small amount of bullion if need be.
- 150g Wintercress
- 1 mozzarella cheese (200g)
- 1 tomato
- 1 small onion
- 1 clove garlic
- Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper
Chop up the wintercress, slice tomatoes, mince the onion and garlic, and cut the mozzarella into cubes. Mix well and serve with a simple vinaigrette.
(Thanks to Foraging Foodie)
- 4 big handfuls of young winter cress, thoroughly rinsed
- Butter or ghee
- A couple of wild leek or one big onion, finely chopped
- Water as needed
- Honey or maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- Dash of ground cloves
- Nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste
Chop the winter cress.
Sauté with the leek or onion for 4 minutes on high heat.
Add water to prevent burning, add honey and spices.
Mix and stir for another 4 minutes.
Serve with white rice and a bit of soy sauce.
Wintercress and Sweet Potato Patties
(Thanks to Flower Prose)
- 1 small sweet potato, peeled, cubed, cooked and mashed
- 1 1/2 cups wintercress microgreens, boiled in a small amount of water and drained
- 2 -3 tbsp milk
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp butter, melted
- 1/8 cup fine bread crumbs
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 scallion, finely diced
- 1 tsp fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Optional add-ins: finely chopped cooked bacon, finely chopped cooked shrimp, finely minced cooked carrots, or a handful of other types of microgreens (I added fresh amaranth for extra color and flavor)
Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Form the mixture into small flat patties and fry in butter in a hot pan until lightly browned. You could serve this with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt if you want, but they’re great just on their own. Yield: 4 patties (2 servings). And… if you’re not growing or foraging wintercress, you could easily substitute spinach or kale instead!
Where Does Winter Cress / Yellow Rocket (Barbarea Vulgaris) Grow?
How To Identify Winter Cress / Yellow Rocket (Barbarea Vulgaris)
Dark green in color and shiny. Basal leaves are approximately 2 to 8 inches long and lobed with one large terminal lobe and 1 to 4 oppositely arranged lateral lobes. Terminal lobes have a heart-shaped base. Leaves become smaller and less lobed toward the top of the plant. All leaves are alternate and have margins that are wavy and toothed.
Biennial plants produce flowering stems during the second year of growth. Stems are erect, smooth, ridged, and branched at the top.
Produced in elongated clusters at the ends of branches. Individual flowers are bright yellow in color and consist of 4 yellow petals.
The fruit is a silique that is approximately 1.5 mm wide and 1 inch long. Siliques have ‘beaks’ at the tip and are squarish in cross-section. Each silique occurs on a stalk (pedicel) that is from 3 to 6 mm long.