Bittercresses – Cardamine SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Pepper Root of Wild Plants

Table of Contents

Bittercresses are in the mustard family and include toothworts. The Latin name “kardamine” means water or pepper grass. The folk name “pepper root” tells what this edible wild plant tastes like.

Bittercresses (cardamine SPP.) like the twoleaf toothwort in our pictures here (cardamine diphylla syn. dentaria diphylla) are related to mustard. Dentaria diphylla is the outdated Latin name used in Haliburton Flora for twoleaf, which lists it as uncommon. Twoleaf I have found in damp to wet mixed woods. The largest patch I’ve found was near a huge patch of wood nettle, which likes the same environment.

Cut-leaved toothwort (cardamine concatenata) and sand bittercress (cardamine parviflora) are other local natives, but they’re rarely spotted here.

Bitter cress (cardamine pensylvanica) is listed as common here in Haliburton Flora and also likes wet places in the woods. Strangely there are no sightings for Haliburton county on iNaturalist? Curious! It is the most popular to eat.

Bittercresses - Cardamine SPP.
Bittercresses – Cardamine SPP. Pictured here cardamine diphylla syn. dentaria diphylla.

The highly invasive garlic mustard is a related look-a-like. I’ve spotted a patch in Kinmount and one in Wilberforce and I’m sure there are more out there spreading. There’s currently a debate about whether you can out eat it or if harvesting/trying to pull it out actually encourages further growth. It’s certainly not one to plant as it will seriously damage the food web in the area it’s let loose on. If you find a small patch, it’s worth a try to completely dig up I’d say. I’m not sure what the current information on managing large areas of it is.

Oh, it’s not just the plants around this nonnative that suffer. The West Virginia white butterfly (pieris virginiensis) uses two-leaved toothwort as its host plant, but this poor butterfly keeps mistaking garlic mustard for it. The butterfly lays its eggs on the doppelganger, but the larvae cannot eat the foreign garlic mustard as a food source and die as a result. Yikes!

Edible Uses of Bittercresses

All bittercresses are edible, although some are tastier than others. All the above ground parts are edible and if they weren’t buried in snow in February we might still be able to harvest it! The greens can be eaten raw or as a potherb, and like their Latin name suggests they generally have a peppery flavor.

Pods of some species are ground and mixed with vinegar to make a substitute for horseradish or mustard. Bitter cress (cardamine pensylvanica) is popular for this, but toothwort can be used too. When using toothwort, make sure it’s abundant in the area you’re harvesting from so the Virginia white butterflies have their host plant and it can continue to thrive!

Rich in vitamin C.

Medicinal Uses of Bittercresses

Bittercress is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • X

Medicinal tags include Astringent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

I might assume with the mention of “tooth” wort (literally root), some may have hoped this is a herb for dental issues, but the name is after the root being toothed according to a very reliable source. On the internet there are all sorts of stories contrary to this, meh, there’s some truth to it because doctrine of signature sorts did catch onto its toothy look, but it was already called toothwort. For those disappointed by its lack of effect for teeth or toothaches, good news – there are dental herbs out there!

Growing Cardamine SPP.

The beautiful cut leaved toothwort (dentaria laciniata syn cardamine concatenata) made it into one of my favourite book purchases from the last year, 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants (link in references below!) If you have moist rich woods she recommends planting it with trout lily which is also a spring ephemeral, and with ferns which will grow over them after spring and fill out the area until winter. You can sow fresh seeds or divide the roots easily. There are various pollinators that will feed on toothwort, but one I noticed in the area that seemed to stay – at least I saw one every hike back to my best toothwort spot of 2021 – was a mustard white! Here is a picture I took of this butterfly checking out another spring ephemeral, spring beauty:

Mustard White Butterfly


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Every book I reference that is available on Amazon is linked to with an associates link.



Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens

Please Like, Comment, Share! We'd love to hear your stories and knowledge! Thank you!

Leave a Comment