Field pennycress – characteristics, cultivation and use

Field pennycress
Field pennycress - by Hajotthu

The field pennycress looks like a brother of the shepherd’s purse but botanically seen probably more of a cousin. It has rounder pockets than its relative, but also prefers fields and roadsides. Although the field pennycress is hardly known as a medicinal plant, yet it has many healing effects. It works against inflammation, both externally and internally and also helps with several women’s complaints.

Profile of field pennycress:

Scientific name: Thlaspi arvense

Plant family: mustard family (Brassicaceae)

Other names: penny cress, fanweed, stinkweed, bastard cress, fan-weed

Sowing time / Planting time: Mid-February – Mid-March

Flowering period: May – August

Harvest time: May – September

Useful plant parts: seeds, herb

Location: full sun to sunny

Soil quality: rich in humus, loose soil

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: inflammation, women’s complaints

Use as aromatic herb: wild herb salad

Plant characteristics and classification of field pennycress

Origin and occurrence of field pennycress

The field pennycress is widespread in Europe, West Asia, Siberia, Japan and Algeria. It is also found in North America. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland the species is very common.

Field pennycress grows close to crop weeds, but also in ruderal flora and on rubbish dumps. It prefers nutrient-rich, humus-rich, in particular loamy soils.

Plant order of field pennycress

Field pennycress belongs to the mustard family (Brassicaceae).

Characteristics of the field pennycress


The usually annual herbaceous plant reaches a stature height of approximately 10 to 40 cm (4 to 16 in). The whole plant is bare, yellow-green and smells clearly when rubbed like leek. Its stem grows upright, is usually branched and edgy.


All leaves, with the exception of the lowest, are sessile and arrow-shaped stem-clasping. They are oblong to narrow obovate, entire or serrated.


The sepals are elliptical in shape and about 2 to 2.5 mm long. The petals are white and tetramerous, oblong wedge-shaped, rounded to weak edges and about 3 to 5 mm long. As the plant is only sparsely visited by insects, mostly self-pollination takes place. It is typical that above the long raceme new flowers are created, while below the first fruits are already ripe. Flowering time is mainly from April to June, occasionally until September.


The small pods sit on about 7 to 15 mm (0.28 to 0.6 in) long and almost horizontally protruding stems. They are almost circular, 12 to 18 mm (0.47 to 0.71 in) long and broadly winged all around. They are strongly flattened and have a deep, very narrow cut at the tip. The style has a length of only 0.3 to 0.5 mm (0.012 to 0.02 in). For each seed compartment, the pod contains 4 to 7 dark brown, arched, ellipsoidal seeds. The broad-lined roundish pods serve as a windscreen. The spread of the diaspores happens with wind and animals and as a rain ballista. Its seeds are rich in fatty oil and germinable for over 30 years. Fruit maturity is from May to November.

Field pennycress – cultivation and care


Field pennycress does not cope at all with full shady locations. Preference is given to fully sunny to very sunny places.


The plant thrives particularly well in a humus-rich, loose substrate. However, the plant is extremely robust and can also cope with other soil conditions. Too sandy soil, should be mixed with larger amounts of clay. In the own garden you can cultivate the annual medicinal plant successfully in wet meadows.


Field pennycress is a mostly annual, rarely biennial plant. If the plant feels well at the chosen location, it tends to become self-seeding. A plant can produce 500 to 2000 seeds, which are able to survive in the soil for up to 30 years. Immediately after the seed ripens in the autumn, it spreads over the substrate over a large area. With warm temperatures, it is not uncommon for the first young plants to germinate in the same year and form a leaf rosette. If you want to sow field pennycress, you should remove the seeds directly from the plant. Gently remove the whole herb or wrap the pods with the ripe seeds with a tissue before removing them together with the pod.

Without any further pretreatment, you could spread the seeds directly at the selected location. You can increase the germination by processing the soil at first. Plant and root remains are removed and the substrate is enriched with larger quantities of compost. Another option: Allow the seeds to dry in a cool place and sow between mid-February and late March. A cultivation on the windowsill is not necessary. Field pennycress needs cold for germinating. Therefore, put the seeds in the refrigerator for two or three weeks before sowing.


In midsummer, you can adequately water the entire green area in the early evening or early morning. The wet meadows, in which the plant grows, however, require much less care than a decorative grass.


Immediately after the last grass clippings in autumn, you should fertilize the soil sufficiently with compost or diluted nettle swill. This creates ideal growth conditions for the field cabbage.


A classic topiary and pruning must not be made for this herbaceous growing plant. Meadows are mowed only 3 to 5 times a year. So that field pennycress gets the possibility of seed formation, you should not completely mow the meadow, but leave some edges untouched. The plant is widely used in folk medicine against a variety of diseases and conditions. For vegetables, you can enhance your food in a culinary way. Use a pair of sharp scissors to cut the entire plant near the ground or tweak the young leaves with your fingernail.

Diseases and pests

The plant is closely related to cabbage species and is considered robust. At the same time it is a nursery for a variety of useful insects. The larvae of the rare orange tip butterfly, for example, have specialized in the consumption of plants of the mustard family. But also pests such as flea beetles do not stop at the tasty leaves of field pennycress. Infestation of the small beetle species is most likely to be recognized by the typical hole feeding on the leaves. You can take the following measures to stop the pests:

  • Healthy plants take little damage from the insects.
  • Do not cultivate field pennycress in close proximity to vegetable and fruit plants.
  • Take a diluted brew of field horsetails or stinging nettles.


The native plant usually grows only one year and dies in the same year after the first frost occurs. Field pennycress, which germinates in autumn, usually overwinters as a leaf rosette close to the ground. The stems with leaves develop only in the following year. Special arrangements for the winter need not be made. Icy temperatures even promote germination of the seeds resting in the soil. Take advantage of the frost-free days in October to prepare the soil sufficiently for the coming gardening season. Mow the grass and leave the cut parts of the plant lying. This layer decomposes slowly and supplies the soil with important nutrients and minerals. At the same time, the seeds of many plant species can ripen and exhale in spring intensified.

Use of the field pennycress

Field pennycress in the kitchen

Edible are the young leaves and the flowers. They taste spicy and cress-like. The young plantlets can, as long as they are still tender, be used in salads, herb quark and dips or in wild herb soups.

Field pennycress as a medicinal herb

Field pennycress can be used as a tea or tincture. It can be used as part of tea for flu and also in various internal inflammations, e.g. inflammation of the kidney.

Women´s diseases / gynecology

Women are helped by field pennycress for menstrual cramps, uterine inflammation and uterine lining growths. Applied as a sitz bath, the herb helps against vaginal inflammation.

Skin healing

Applied externally, field pennycress helps against skin inflammations, boils and carbuncles. To do this, you can wash the skin with a tea, bath or apply wraps.

Field pennycress can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • boil
  • bronchitis
  • carbuncle
  • endometriosis
  • eye diseases
  • fever
  • liver weakness
  • menstrual cramps
  • nephritis
  • rheumatism
  • skin inflammation
  • vaginitis

Medicinal properties

  • antibacterial
  • anti-inflammatory
  • diuretic
  • expectorant
  • sweaty
  • toning

Side effects

Do not use in unreasonably large quantities, because field pennycress may in some cases reduce the number of white blood cells as a result of the anti-inflammatory effect.


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

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