Winter Cress – Barbarea Vulgaris: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Arugula of Wild Plants

Table of Contents

Wintercress is a nonnative garden vegetable that has escaped into the wild in Ontario. The subtitle was a toss up between broccoli and arugula of edible wild plants. Which would you have picked?

Winter cress (barbarea vulgaris) is common here along moist roadsides and in fields among flowers and grasses. Its bright yellow flower clusters stand out:

Winter Cress – Barbarea Vulgaris
Winter Cress – Barbarea Vulgaris

Edible Uses of Winter Cress

The arugula like young leaves can be eaten raw or as a potherb. They’re best finely chopped. For older leaves, boiling in a couple changes of water can take away some of the bitterness. With its strong taste you may want to combine it with milder greens. Snow cover permitting and in mild areas, these leaves can be eaten early winter and spring lending the common names winter or spring cress. It’s one of the first early spring greens here.

Like asparagus, chicory and others it can be tied up, covered and blanched while still in the ground.

The budding flowerheads can be boiled in a couple changes of water and served like its relation broccoli. It was a toss up between subtitling this feature the broccoli or the arugula of wild plants. The yellow flowers are also edible.

The seeds can be used like mustard seed, similar to shepherd’s purse, field mustard, and field penny cress, which are some of the other mustard family plants we’ve covered.

Medicinal Uses of Winter Cress

Winter Cress is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary

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

Common usage includes astringent uses like a wound poultice. It’s been called “wound rocket”.

Alternative Uses of Yellow Rocket

It can be used as a “trap crop” for diamondback moth, whose caterpillar damages cruciferous vegetable crops.

The budding flowerheads of wintercress look a little like the beginnings of a head of broccoli
The budding flowerheads of wintercress look a little like the beginnings of a head of broccoli

Growing Barbarea Vulgaris

Sadly, it’s an aggressive introduced species. It could be grown as a vegetable or strategically in the vegetable garden (see Alternate Uses). Mustard and cabbage white butterflies and some bugs will eat it.

There’s a native plant that winter cress is sometimes mistaken for.. Golden Alexanders (zizea aurea) are native and also yellow flowered and showy, and a delight to our native bees, butterflies and birds.


And the Usual Cautions:

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

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

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.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Stalking The Wild Asparagus (Field Guide Edition).

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries (Regional Foraging Series)

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

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