Wild Spices: Foraging for Peppergrass


| 8/14/2017 10:37:00 AM


 

The spicy, horseradish-y flavor of peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum) sneaks up on you. When my foraging tour participants first taste it, their response is ho-hum. Then a moment later their eyes widen. “Oh, wow, that’s delicious, really mustardy…”

The seeds are the most flavorful part of the plant (I’m saying “seeds,” but really I’m referring to the whole little flat, round, edible seedpod). The leaves – narrow and linear near the top, up to 3 inches long and lobed near the bottom of the plant – are also edible, with an arugula-like pungency.

At the tips of the branching stems you’ll find the seed heads, often with a few of the minute, four-petaled white flowers on their tips. The seedpods are tiny flat discs with a notch on one side, and they are arranged along the stalks like the bristles of a bottle brush.

The optimal stage to harvest peppergrass seedpods for flavor is when they are still green. Once they turn tan they lack flavor. The seedpods are easy to strip off the stalks: just hold the growing tip (where the flowers are) with one hand and gently pull downwards towards the stem base with your other hand. With this method, you can strip off a good quantity of peppergrass in very little time.



Remember what I told you about how the flavor of peppergrass isn’t noticeable until you’ve chewed it for a while? For that reason, I don’t use it whole in recipes, but either grind it or use it in recipes that require some chewing.



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