More of the Cabbage Family
Here is a small sampling of cabbage family plants whose seeds might be used as a condiment. Recipe follows.
Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa pastoris)
This member of the cabbage family is easy to identify by its seed pods, which are in the shape of little heart-shaped “purses.” The shadow photo and the flower photo are of a local species – Capsella rubella – which is used in all the same ways as the bursa-pastoris, which is in the third picture, showing off its ability to make seeds. This great bunch was growing next to the barn at an organic farm.
Midwives and menopausal women depend on tincture of the flowering top of fresh shepherd’s purse to staunch uterine bleeding. It is prompt and effective in dropperful doses, under the tongue if needed, or desired, for fastest action. I occasionally eat the young leaves, when they look like miniature dandelion leaves and have a spicy, cabbagy taste. The tincture usually has a strong smell, like sauerkraut or cabbage.
The part of this common farm and city weed that is most often used, historically, is the seed. In times of need, it was collected and ground with wheat, or even used instead of wheat, to make bread. It is most unusual that a seed in the cabbage family can be eaten in quantity, most are best used as condiments, and may, even then, be problematic for some.
Cow cress (Lepidium campestre) is not photographed but is another peppery condiment.
The apprentices renamed “poor man’s pepper” as “poor person’s pepper” or “poor witches pepper,” but you don’t have to be poor to enjoy the spicy, peppery seeds of these cabbage family plants. They show up around me in great abundance around the middle of May, offering tasty leaves for my salads. By the beginning of June they are flowering and just beginning to set those breath-taking seeds. And they are so easy to use. You don’t have to toast or crush them. Just separate the husks away and they are ready to use. Add a little spice to your life!
Barbara’s cress, Winter cress, Yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris)
This is one of the first wild foods that I learned to recognize and use, but I must admit to never enjoying it. Winter cress is too bitter and acrid for my taste, and I am a great lover of cabbage family greens in all their forms. It is nice to know that it is virtually evergreen and thus provides greens for winter scavanging (so long as the snow is not too deep) I will eat the flowers in my salad and I am curious to see if the seed is usable as a condiment. And I continue to feel a special kinship with yellow rocket and to exalt when it covers fields and pasture lands with a sudden yellow wave.