Bittercress, an edible cool weather herb

Bittercress is an annual cool-weather mustard and member of the Brassicaceae family. It is a host plant for a few species of aphids (1), and cabbage moths will preferentially lay eggs on many varieties of cress, including Bittercress (2). However, Bittercress contains saponins which ultimately prove fatal to cabbage moth larvae. These two qualities make Bittercress an excellent dead end trap crop and companion for winter and early spring brassicas such as collards, kale, broccoli and cauliflower.

As a Cover Crop

Bittercress is a prolific seeder, and if flowers are not removed, will disperse thousands of seeds, with plants appearing in late Fall through early Spring. Thus, it can be used as a cool weather cover crop to prevent erosion or soil compaction. The plants are easily removed by mechanical means in Spring, but will die out on their own by mid-Summer.

Bittercress should not be allowed to grow near tomatoes or cucurbits, as Tomato Spotted Wilt and Cucumber Vein Yellowing bacteria can be carried on Cresses (3).

As a Foraged Edible

Finally, Bittercress is edible, and rather than bitter, imparts a peppery flavor to salads, sandwiches, soups, and can be used to make pesto (see recipe below). Bitter cress wilts quickly so should be harvested shortly before use.

Add to Plan to Eat

Bittercress and Hazelnut Pesto

Enjoy layers of flavor in this pesto made from West Coast nuts and foraged wild greens. This is our favorite wintertime pesto and so handy as a sauce, spread, or rub.


Prep Time: 15 min

Total Time: 15 min



  • 12 cup hazelnuts
  • 12 ounce garlic optional 3 cloves
  • 2 cups bittercress leaves packed Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is best
  • 14 cup olive oil or avocado
  • 14 teaspoon salt pink Himalayan or unrefined sea salt
  • 14 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice optional


  1. Food Processor Method
  2. Place the hazelnuts and garlic into the processor and pulse until coarsely chopped
  3. Add ½ cup of bittercress leaves and process until they are blended in.
  4. Pour in the oil. Keep adding the greens in ½ cup batches, processing between each batch. Scrape down the sides as needed.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. Add lemon if desired. Process to slightly chunky or smooth as you prefer. If the pesto will not circulate in the processor, add more oil gradually until it does.
  6. Mortar and Pestle Method
  7. Place the garlic, salt, and pepper into a granite or marble mortar that can take at least 2 cups of material. Crush until the garlic is well broken up.
  8. Add half the hazelnuts (¼ cup) and crush until they are the consistency (chunky or smooth) you desire in the finished pesto. Pour the contents of the mortar into a bowl and set aside. Put the other half of the hazelnuts in the mortar and crush. Add ½ cup of bittercress and grind the nuts and greens smooth.
  9. Pour the lemon juice (if using) and some of the oil in and grind until blended. Keep adding bittercress in ½ cup batches with a little oil each time.
  10. When you have crushed all the bittercress into a smooth paste, add in your reserved garlic and hazelnut mixture. Grind a few times to blend the garlic through the pesto.
  11. If you want to include Parmesan or vegan cheese alternatives, add them in just before serving. When I use these, I add ¼ cup cheese per 2 cups of bittercress pesto.
  12. Yields 2 cups of pesto.

Amount Per Serving (8)

  • Calories: 113
  • Protein: 2g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Carbohydrate: 2g
  • Fat: 11g
  • Sodium: 76mg
  • Fiber: 1g

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