Hairy bittercress – or “shot weed “as I knew this plant as a child is a hardy annual plant known to many as a weed, but to foragers it is a resource found almost everywhere and at the time of year that our other salad plants aren’t available . It is easily distinguished from wavy bittercress ,cardamine flexuosa, as it grows in lovely rosettes, where as the wavy grows in groups of long protruding stems .
It is part of the mustard family a Brassicaceae and is a great herb for a salad dish and I should point out that it is nether hairy or bitter in taste, but mildly mustard flavoured, crossed with water cress .
It flowers from early spring to autumn and has small white flowers which have a slightly milder taste than the leaves, these shortly turn into seeds and it is the seeds which give it the common name that I am familiar with, as when ready to release and they are disturbed they almost explode – sending the seeds flying away from the plant much like Himalayan balsam and this is what makes me chuckle when I see gardeners desperately trying to eradicate the plant and just succeed in spreading it further!
The seeds are “silique” which is basically a term used to describe a seed arrangement that is more than tree times longer than it is wide and are a good ingredient to add to wild mustard .
You will find the plant in most places including gardens and pavements and my prompting to write this was I saw a lot of the plant growing from paths and joints in walls in the town centre of Stockport last weekend.
Bittercress was actually named in the 10th century “nine herb charm” which was used to treat poisoning or infection and is of particular interest to me, as the charm mixes Pagan and Christian elements which probably means that the Pagan poem was changed by Christian censorship, which would normally have been erased completely. It even mentioned Wõden who is the Anglo Saxon God known to the Norse as Oden.