Bittercress – characteristics, cultivation and use


In addition to dandelion, shepherd’s purse and St. John’s wort, the yellow-flowered bittercress is one of the herbs that can be found very often and almost everywhere.

Profile of bittercress:

Scientific name: Barbarea vulgaris

Plant family: crucifers, mustard family (Brassicaceae)

Other names: herb barbara, rocketcress, yellow rocketcress, winter rocket, wound rocket

Sowing time / Planting time: March – May; September – October

Flowering period: May – July

Harvest time: all year

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: loamy and nutrient-rich soils

Use as a medicinal herb: indigestion, bile flow disorders, overacidification of the stomach, disease prophylaxis

Use as aromatic herb: salads, herbal quarks, cream cheese, herb butter

Plant characteristics and classification of bittercress

Origin of bittercress

Bittercress is a native plant to temperate latitudes worldwide. Its original area extends from Europe to Asia Minor and Siberia.

Occurrence of bittercress

Bittercress is a classic weed and generally places so little demands on its location that it settles on roadsides, river banks, meadows, farmlands, embankments or deserted land that nature recovers. Because of its occurrence, bittercress is a pointer plant for moist, nitrogenous soils with a high clay content. In the mountains the herb can be found up to the subalpine stage.

Plant order of bittercress

The common bittercress (Barbarea vulgaris) belongs to the crucifers (Brassicaceae) and is related to herbs such as the shepherd’s purse or the bitter candytuft. The genus of winter cresses currently includes 22 species. Other well-known winter cresses are the land cress (Barbarea verna), as well as the small-flowered winter-cress (Barbarea stricta).

bittercress with yellow flowers
bittercress with yellow flowers

Look and characteristics of the bittercress


Bittercress is a biennial, perennial and fairly undemanding plant that can reach heights of growth of up to 1 meter (40 in). The plant is frost hardy. The herb has a branched rootstock with branches and many fine roots.


In the first year after germination, the bittercress forms a leaf rosette with rather light green, rounded and slightly pinnate leaves. In the second year, the shoot axis grows up and forms rather serrated cauline leaves. The stem is bare, angular and glabrous.


The plant develops golden flowers during the flowering period, which can be expected from May to July. However, flowering is not developed until the second year of life. The plant forms many hermaphrodite flowers, which are arranged in racemose and loose inflorescences.


The fruits of the bittercress are elongated, two-parted and up to 3 cm (1.2 in) long pods containing several brown-colored seeds.

Cultivation and care of the bittercress


The plant prefers semi-shady to sunny places with moist, loamy and rather nutrient-rich soils. However, locations with full sun are to be avoided. Overall, the herb is relatively undemanding.


When sowing keep in mind that bittercress needsa light to germ. The seeds should therefore only be lightly pressed no deeper than 0.5 cm (0.2 in) into the soil. Sowing can be done between mid-March and early May, and between September and early November. Since the herb requires germination temperatures between 15 and 20 ° C (59 and 68 ° F), sowing in the early spring months is only possible in preculture. For a successful preculture simple seed trays will do, which should be well covered with a foil. As sowing substrate germ-free and nutrient-poor soils should be selected. The foil should be provided with some holes to allow for better circulation and curb rot risks.

After sowing, wait until the seedlings have developed up to four leaves. Incidentally, the germination time is about 12 to 20 days. When transplanting directly into the field, caution is advised, as the seedlings are relatively sensitive. Which is why prick out is initially recommended in prick out trays. In the field, make sure to keep a distance of at least 20 – 25 cm (8 – 10 in) between the plants. Bittercress can also be excellently cultivated in pots and on the balcony. Bittercress is self-sowing.


Insofar as the plant has been placed in a pre-fertilized substrate (potting soil, soil mixed with compost), only very sparing fertilization is required over the year. In the first year no fertilization is necessary. In the second year, some organic fertilizer in the form of cattle manure or compost is sufficient.


If bittercress is to be used for consumption or healing purposes, it is advisable to harvest only the fresh base leaves. The leaves should always be consumed fresh, as they have the best flavor and taste in this condition. Dried, the leaves of the bittercress lose their peppery aroma. For medicinal purposes, the seeds can also be collected (from the second year on).

a wild bee on a bittercress flower
a wild bee on a bittercress flower

Bittercress and its use

Bittercress not only makes itself decorative in a bouquet of wild flowers, the herb was formerly appreciated and eaten as a healthy plant because of its ingredients and especially because of the high content of vitamin C and many bitter substances.

Bittercress in the kitchen

Alike ashweed, stinging nettle and sorrel, bittercress can be prepared like spinach. For that, the fresh, young leaves are harvested in the period from October to May.

The taste of the leaves is slightly peppery spicy – most likely to be compared with cress. The reason for this is the sharpness of the bittercress with the contained mustard oils. Since Bittercress can still be harvested when there is snow, the plant is also referred to as winter cress.

In addition to the cooked variant, bittercress can also be consumed raw and gives as an ingredient in green salad a spicy tasting note. Due to the high proportion of vitamin C and the mustard oils containing, the herb is a quite healthy and delicious alternative in winter salads. Furthermore, bittercress is mentioned in recipes for herbal quark. Also delicious is the preparation of a pesto.

For preparation, only the underlying rosette leaves or the young shoots should be picked, as they contain the best flavor. As a delicacy for salads the seedlings and sprouts are often used, those taste like ordinary cress.

Bittercress as a medicinal herb

Because of the high vitamin C content, bittercress is considered an effective vitamin donor. The other ingredients also help with blood purification. Besides, the contained bitter substances promote the appetite and metabolic and digestive processes in the stomach and intestine, as these stimulate the production of digestive juices in the stomach, pancreas, bile and liver.

The common bittercress is sometimes used today as a prophylaxis against colds. Here the leaves can be processed into a tea. For 1 liter (34 fl oz) of tea about 25 grams (0.9 oz) of rosette leaves can be used. The tea should let brew for about 8 – 12 minutes. Throughout the day should not be drunk more than three cups. The tea can also be used at overacidification of the stomach.

Bittercress can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • cold
  • loss of appetite
  • overacidification of the stomach
  • stimulating metabolism
  • spring fever
  • wounds

Medicinal properties

  • blood purifier
  • diuretic

In the Middle Ages, the herb was primarily used against wound disease or for wound healing. The containing mustard oils make it possible to use it as a skin irritant, so that the herb was previously used primarily in field surgery. Also in some old herbal books this application was mentioned.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Bittercress – What is there to pay attention to?

Bittercress can be found online, as well as some smaller perennial gardeners and farms also sell seeds and fresh plants.

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