Creasy Greens: Try Growing And Cooking This Edible Wild Plant

Similar to watercress, this edible wild plant is nutritious and easy to grow.

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    Creasy greens are high in Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Try substituting them for cooked spinach.

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When we moved (from up north) to our Tennessee homestead a few years ago, we discovered a delicious—and almost year-round—vegetable that's not only a culinary delight but also a gardener's dream: It requires virtually no care at all . . . plants itself every year . . . and survives unprotected even in snowy, sub-zero weather. Known in these parts as "creasy greens" or simply "creasies", this land-loving cousin of watercress looks and tastes much like its aquatic relative, but literally grows like a weed—even in poor, sandy soil—and provides us with fresh salad makings from the garden during a season when most folks can only leaf through seed catalogs and dream of warmer days.

Creasy Greens Lesson

When we first noticed the edible wild plant growing in the long-neglected garden of our new home place, we mistook them for common winter cress and—since we'd tried that forageable before and hadn't cared for its bitter aftertaste—promptly plowed the greenery under, right along with the rest of the weeds and overgrowth. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Most MOTHER EARTH NEWS foragers are very fond of both young winter-cress greens and the unopened flower buds.] But when patches emerged again the following year, one of our wise neighbors pointed out the plants' characteristic difference: Although a sprig of common winter cress has one to four pairs of small leaves below a large, rounded end leaf, creasy greens have from five to ten sets of lateral leaves below a bigger leaf. He suggested that we give the plant a try, and we're glad we took his advice. We discovered that the sweet-tasting but pungent fresh leaves—when chopped finely—make a wonderfully piquant topping for tacos and salads, and when cooked in quiches and other dishes become as mild as spinach.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Actually, the plant Ms. Marengo describes is winter cress . . . but a different species: Barbarea verna, which is also known as early winter cress, Belle Isle cress, orin the Southcreasy greens or scurvy grass. Its closest relative, Barbarea vulgaris (common winter cress), ranges farther north than creasiesup into Ontario and Nova Scotiaand south to Missouri and Kansas. Barbarea verna can be found from Massachusetts southward . . . and both varieties are also distributed, although sparsely, in the central Plains and the Northwest. Folks living in the Pacific states can enjoy Barbarea orthoceras, or American winter cress.] 

A Wild Edible Plant of Many Virtues

Since those first few experiments in creasy cookery, we've found the greens to be eminently edible right up to the point when they begin to go to seed (they also seem to be not quite as flavorful when plucked while frozen solid). And in addition to tasting good, creasies rate extraordinarily high in nutritive value. Euell Gibbons reported in his book Stalking the Healthful Herbs that 100 grams of winter cress contain an impressive 5,067 I.U. of vitamin A and 152 milligrams of vitamin C! By comparison, the same weight of raw broccoli spears rates only 2,500 I.U. of vitamin A . . . and oranges (which of course are universally acknowledged as a good source of vitamin C) provide a comparatively measly 50 milligrams of C per 100 grams!

In addition, creasy greens just have to be among the easiest of all plant varieties to grow. Outside of striving to improve our garden soil overall, we do next to nothing to help our creasy crop along. Our original stock managed to survive in a terribly acidic sandy soil (the pH was 4.2!) where even other weeds were sparse . . . and now that we've limed, cover-cropped, and manured the garden over several seasons, the plants positively flourish. Since some of our friends raise their greens in heavy clay, it's obvious that this member of the cress family is not particularly picky when it comes to its growing medium.

Grow Your Own

Actually, the only real precaution we take with our crop each year is to make certain we allow a few plants to go to seed. Creasies herald spring's arrival by bursting into sweet-scented bouquets of golden yellow blossoms (which honeybees seem to love . . and which, when brought into the house, brighten any window and perfume the room with a heady fragrance). Long, slender seedpods form on a central stalk, and you can either let the plants sow themselves . . . or gather the seed (after allowing the nuggets to mature) and create a somewhat more orderly planting of your own.

4/22/2018 11:29:38 AM

When my family moved from Indianapolis Indiana I was a very weak and sick 12 year old. My grandmother introduced us to greasy greens. I became stronger and healthier in KY. I remember the wonderful taste of this wild greens and bacon grease being cooked on her wood stove.

4/22/2018 11:29:36 AM

When we moved from the city of Indianapolis Indiana to a small country town in Kentucky. My grandmother introduced us to canning and the wonders of creasy greens. I was a very weak and sick child in Indiana, but when we moved to Ky and I started eating healthy I felt better. I was hard work but I remember the wonderful taste of creasy greens with bacon grease being cooked on my grandmother's wood stove.

8/22/2014 5:08:36 PM

I grew up eating creases (which is all I've ever known them by) They start growing around March and April, here in Ohio. We go out and dig them up by the roots, then cut off the root & dirt, and fill a bag with them. Then we clean them good, and boil them down. Then we cook them in bacon grease- delicious!! We also make sure we pick enough that we can freeze several quarts. These creases, as they grow- eventually are topped with a yellow flower. They are still edible at that time, but not as good as they are in the early spring. Your picture at the beginning of this article is exactly what we eat. But we NEVER called them 'creasy greens'- just creases- OR greens. Thanks for the read.

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