Wintercress - Barbarea vulgaris, click for a larger image
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Wintercress - Barbarea vulgaris, click for a larger image
Click any photo for a larger image
Wintercress - Barbarea vulgaris, click for a larger image

Wintercress - Barbarea vulgaris
Family - Brassicaceae
Also known as - Bittercress, Winter Rocket, Yellow Rocket

Wintercress is a small herbaceous biennial or perennial that grows to between 30-60 cm (12-24in) in height, occasionally to 1m (33in) with a ribbed and hairless stem which is a branched at the base, from a basal rosette of stalked, shiny dark green leaves.  The deep yellow flowers of Wintercress 1-1.2cm (0.5in) across, are seen from April to July in dense terminal clusters above the foliage.  They are 7-9mm (0.28-0.35in) long, with four bright yellow petals, with the lower flowers in the cluster ripening first into long narrow dark green seed pods, about 2.5cm (1.0in) long with a square cross section.  The pods clasp the stem.

Often confused with Wild Mustard, the flowers of Wintercress are a deeper golden yellow, whilst the hairless leaves are a glossy green and may even be slightly purplish.  The plant is resistent to some insects that specialise in Crucifers.  It is native to Eurasia and is naturalised in many parts of North America as a weed growing in moist areas, roadsides, along rivers or ditches.  The genus supposedly derived the name Barbarea from Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillerymen and miners, as this plant in the past was used to soothe the wounds caused by explosions.  Chemicals produced by the plant are used as a cue for egg-laying by butterflies such as the Small White butterfly which thrive on this plant.

FBCP do not advise or recommend that Wintercress - Barbarea vulgaris is eaten or used as a herbal remedy.   It grows quickly into dandelion-like rosettes of edible, cress-like foliage used salads or to add a nippy taste to mixed greens for cooking.  The leaves can be cut up fresh over salads, older leaves can be used in stews or soups, or you can dry the leaves to make tea.  Flowering stems can be cooked like broccoli.

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