Bittercress is a fiery plant that tastes of mustard. You can pick it throughout winter if it's growing in running water that hasn't frozen over.
Where to Find It
Bittercress grows all over Denmark in nutrient-rich soil and in moving water. You'll typically find it along streams, creeks, or ditches where the water delivers a constant supply of nutrients to the soil. It can also pop up in places where there's lots of moisture in the soil due to underground flows. Look along streams for green mounds with splashes of small, white flowers.
Streams, deciduous forests, roadsides.
When to Find It
You can harvest bittercress from November until June, but if you want an intensely sharp flavor, it's best to pick it in winter. The plant flowers in May and June.
Entire plant: November, December, January, February, March, April, May, June.
How to Spot It
Bittercress has a white-pithed, upright stem that typically splits into a couple of branches. Oval or spoon-shaped leaves form along in stem in facing pairs. The leaves have a smooth surface. The small, white flowers grow in clusters at the top of the stem.
How to Pick It
Clip the stem off the bittercress right above the bottom branch. Remember to pick from several plants and taste-test your way around so that you take from plants that have the flavor intensity you're looking for.
Flowers: May, June.
On the palate
Bittercress is very sharp and strong in flavor, with clear notes of cress and mustard.
Bittercress has no particular scent.
Bittercress is quite good raw, but as with any seasonal herbs that grow in water, you should check whether any livestock have access to the stream where you’re collecting it. If so, there is a risk that the plants contain a liver fluke parasite that can be transmitted to humans. If in doubt, blanch the herb before using. It'll lose some of its flavor and crispness, but at least it will be completely safe to eat. Unlike horseradish, bittercress' sharp flavor can tolerate gentle heat.
You can use bittercress where you'd otherwise use mustard or horseradish. It can break through fatty and umami-laden ingredients and will highlight certain notes in the dish, like pepper. Use the flowers for a decoration that also contains a bit of heat, or instead of pepper to top a fillet of beef grilled to a rosy pink (you can use the leaves this way too). Bittercress can be paired with oily fish, cream, pork and beef, eggs, hearty salads, roasted celeriac, spinach, open-faced sandwiches, or a rich and hearty soup. It can also give a sauce a kick if blended in right before serving.
Cover the bittercress with a moist cloth and store in a sealed bag or airtight container inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, where the leaves will stay fresh for a little over a week. You should eat the flowers as quickly as possible.
Sharp and strong herbs such as hairy bittercress, watercress, and horseradish can be substituted for bittercress.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
There is no risk of mistaking the plant for another dangerous or undesirable plant.