Weed Wednesday: Make that hairy bittercress

Posted Apr 19th, 2013 in Eating Niagara

Weed Wednesday: Make that hairy bittercress

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Tell me if hairy bittercress sounds remotely appetizing.

I'm going with no. Anything edible with the words hairy and bitter in its name desperately needs a PR makeover. Sorry hairy bittercress but you sound like the weed equivalent of the naked mole rat.

Not much about hairy bittercress sounds redeeming, let alone edible. But unlike the hairless rodent with translucent skin and teeth that would challenge even the best orthodontist, hairy bittercress is a bit of a misnomer.

Oh, it's bitter, being part of the mustard family. But it's not hairy. In fact, it's quite smooth, much like those naked mole rats. And it's also the weed that I called winter cress in my Weed Wednesday post last week.

Man, I hate being wrong. But I do take comfort in the fact that hairy bittercress and winter cress are related. They're both brassicas. The possibility that I had confused the two was pointed out to me by a reader from the U.K. My first thought when my eyes fell on the words hairy bittercress: Dear god, what did I eat?

The good news is, it's edible and my pie recipe is no worse because I used hairy bittercress instead of winter cress. Still, I felt a little foolish when I read the comment.

I clung to the hope that I wasn't wrong. The flowers would tell me — those four-petaled, delicate shoots sprouting from the centre of my cress. Last I looked, there were none, so my credibility would stay in tact at least a little longer. If those blooms turned out to be yellow, then I would be redeemed. It really was winter cress that I had gushed about and gorged on.

If the blossoms were white, well, then I had egg on my face — the kind that goes really well with hairy bittercress in the quiche-like concoction that I called winter cress pie.

As soon as I was able, I went straight to my weedy cluster for clarity and found it — in the white flowers emerging from the centre of those glorious wild spring greens. They were like beacons drawing me to the land of Wrong. Population: Me.

Oh hairy bittercress, you trickster. You poor soul with the unfortunate name. Even Euell Gibbons spared no ink on you in Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Few have, though that most dubious source of information, Wikipedia, tells me you're also known as lamb's cress (much more appealing, really) and flickweed (also needs work).

In fact, most of what I have read talks about how hairy bittercress is a bit of dreadful weed, with one tiny flower producing up to 600 seeds that can spread and sprout enough cress to take over a garden. Detailed plans have been crafted to eliminate hairy bittercress from flower beds and veggie patches while one fan, clearly in the minority, suggested it pairs well with sorrel and smoked salmon.

So I'm putting my stock in that smoked salmon-loving guy. I love weeds, especially ones you can eat — even if they sound like the plant equivalent of one of the world's ugliest animals. I know you taste good and that's all that matters.

Welcome to my garden and plate hairy bittercress. My apologies for confusing you with your cousin, winter cress. Now that we've been properly introduced, I look forward to getting to know you better, eating you in more recipes and telling the world just how great you are.

But would you mind if I just called you HB instead?

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