Bittercress a warming winter weed

Bittercress and flowers

Bittercress and flowers

Bittercress Cardamine hirsuta

I love this little compact, rosette shaped annual with lobed leaves, small white flowers and upright seed pods that explode, flinging the seeds far and wide when ripe and you touch them, hence one of its names ‘shot weed or ‘flick weed’. Other names are ‘lambs cress’, ‘spring cress’, and ‘hairy bittercress’.

It grows all over New Zealand and is fond of popping up in container plants, to the annoyance of nurserymen. It also flourishes in damp gardens, driveways cultivated or disturbed soil. It grows and goes to seed within a few weeks enabling it to have several generations in a year, making it prolific.


The botanical name of this plant Cardamine comes from the words for heart and subdue as it was used as a heart sedative. hirsuta is latin for hairy. It is in the brassica family which are very healthy greens, being full of vitamin C and sulphur which helps oxygen cross into your cells. It is a great preventative weed that we need right now during winter. I notice it is just starting to go up to flower in August, signaling a change in the season.

Before you pull it out and throw it in the compost, sample the peppery tasting leaves, they are great bursts of flavour in a salad especially in winter. It’s like a perfect little micro- green. Just lift the whole plant, cut off the roots, rinse, chop or use the leaves in egg dishes or this salad recipe.

Warm Beetroot and Bitter Cress Salad

Bittercress beetroot salad

Bittercress beetroot salad

  • 4 beetroot (weighing about 500g)
  • 50g sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 40g bitter cress
  • Sea saltMethod
    • Wash the beetroot and boil in water.
    • Check after 45-50 minutes, they should be tender when pierced with a skewer.
    • Spread the seeds in a frying pan and dry roast while stirring for about 8 minutes. • Whisk the honey, oil, salt, and lemon juice together.
    • While the beetroot are still warm peel them and cut into bite size pieces.
    • Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and enjoy! Serves 4.If you have any questions or comments about weeds email me: or check my website

Hi Julia,
Thanks for the suggestions about the steamed weeds in the previous post. I will dazzle John in due course. It has been raining steadily here so I am staying inside! Just a rush out of the door for my regular greens and then back in again. Foraging for weeds still takes me longer and is more fun in better weather.
But now you got me confused. I was so happy I knew most of the weeds you mentioned and what is more where to find them and now you throw this at me. Bitter Cress!!!!!
Have I got that???? It so looks like land or winter cress which was the one that you found on the path close to the stones near the herb patch. Remember? Is it the same??? It looks smaller though? I went out but did not see any flowers. Oh, help me out here. 
The salad sounds great though and the beetroot makes it look colorful. At least I do have some small beetroot coming up so some babies have to be sacrificed for my salad tonight.
Good that it is a warm winter weed because John and I will go slug hunting again tonight. All our poor seedlings are worse for wear because thousands of slugs are attacking them. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I went out for the first time, there were so many. We put some sand around our beans in the glasshouse but we do not have enough sand to do the whole garden so out we go tonight and feed the chooks some late supper.
AND what I start to notice, the weeds are NOT attacked by slugs, how odd. One more thing to love your adorable weeds for, my friend.
Love Wilma

HI Wilma,

Very sorry to hear about the slug invasion, going out and picking them up seems to be the best way to deal with them – good on you and John!

Bittercress seedheads

Bittercress seedheads

It is interesting that weeds aren’t appealing to slugs and yes a great reason to let some grow for food!  Land cress or winter cress has bigger leaves, you are right and darker green leaves too, I’m sure the heat or spiciness puts slugs off eating their leaves.  This one is quite small although the rosettes can get to 10cm across especially when they’re going to flower – the plant seems to expand and the leaves get more space between the lobes. I don’t remember seeing it at your place, but hopefully from the photo you’ll recognize it.  Here they are already setting seed now that it is late August.  You can even eat the seed heads as well for a more potent mustardy taste.  I’ll be very interested to hear if you find any bittercress in the garden. How do you find the winter cress – do you find it too hot?  I only put a small leaf or two in my smoothies as the taste can dominate too much.

With love

9 Responses to “Bittercress a warming winter weed”

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  1. Sue says:

    Dear Julia,
    Where can I get bitter res seeds?

    THanks Sue

    • Julia says:

      Hi Sue, I don’t know where you can get bitter cress seeds. If you can find a plant and transplant it to your garden, it will go to seed and then you’ll have it. It grows readily in potted plants and in our garden it is going to flower now. If it ever stops raining I might be able to save some seed when they ripen. If you’d like me to do that let me know your address and I’ll send you some when I have them. From a wild, wintery Tauranga, Julia

  2. Thanks for the yummy looking recipe, I featured it on today blog post 🙂

  3. Bridget Pollock says:

    Dear Julia
    Just came your brilliant website in my search for land cress lookalikes and found your aryicle on bitter cress. I pulled some of these from our garden here in Lockerbie a couple of days ago thinking they are inedible but seeing the likeness with land cress. Well I certainly won’t be pulling out anymore of these delicious babies exvept to add to my salads. Thank you so much for helping me are the ‘green light’! 😃.
    I wonder what other delectable delights I will discover in our lovely garden, have already added loads of wild garlic to my salads etc.

    Best wishes
    Bridget Pollock

    • Julia says:

      HI Bridge, thanks so much for your comment and excellent that you found bitter cress and are now enjoying eating it!! I really like it especially because it is a small plant, easy to pick and tasty. Thanks also for your positive feedback about the website – awesome!

  4. Jeannette says:

    Can borage seeds be bought commercially?

  5. Julia says:

    HI Jeannette,
    yes borage can be bought from Kings Seeds

    Thanks for writing and asking!

  6. Mims says:

    OMG, I must have millions of this plant in my garden, I had never seen it before in 20 years of living here and now it has taken over. Glad to know I can eat it. Might try fermenting it too…..