Spicy Like Springtime


Little Western Bittercress, a.k.a. Cardamine oligosperma, is safe in Wild Girl’s ghostly pale hands (Photo by Henry Stanley)

The blank white-gray skies of Portland’s wintertime are notoriously depressing, so signs of springtime are greeted eagerly in this neck of the woods. I went for a walk with Emily and Henry along the Springwater Corridor, a bike trail that runs through east Portland, and we looked for hope that the sun will return some day. When we spotted bittercress growing a few feet off the path in some soggy grass, we took heart.

Bittercress is a kind of wild mustard green, and it tastes accordingly spicy. The leaves and stem are good raw as a part of a salad mixture, but tread more carefully with the roots, which are extra hot like horseradish.

Bittercress is found all over the western United States as well as New York state, according to this handy plant profile on the USDA’s site. It’s unclear whether the herb is technically native, and it does not appear in Daniel E. Moerman’s behemoth “Native American Ethnobotany” catalog. Emily, a professional herbalist, says her books suggest Eurasian descent.

Like other plants in the mustard family, bittercress can be found in disturbed areas. When crushed, it emits a familiar mustard-like scent. It’s easiest to identify a mustard when flowers are present, but I lucked out because Emily and Henry knew the plant so well they recognized it sans decor. To learn more about patterns of the mustard (brassicaceae family) check out Botany In A Day, Thomas J. Elpel’s book on plant patterns.


Emily admires a hazelnut tree’s hanging thingies, called “catkins,” which are technically flowers. (Photo by Henry)

For more hope that spring is coming, read Emily’s latest blog post here.

Then explore many more wild plants on the Search Plants! page.

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