Garden Cress and its Natural Health Benefits
Garden cress (Lepidium sativum) is a fast-growing, edible plant related to watercress. It’s in the genus Lepidium in the mustard family and shares the tangy pepper flavor of mustard greens. Garden cress is also known as pepper cress, pepper grass or pepperwort. Cress tastes somewhat like radishes. There are both smooth and curled leaf varieties. Garden cress is a reseeding annual plant that drops its seed back into the soil and lays dormant until the following year. Cress can be grown in full sun to partial shade. Its seeds are light-germinating, usually sprouting within 2 to 4 days. It has long leaves at the bottom of the stem and small, bright-green, feathery leaves on opposite sides at the top. Garden cresses have orange, white, or light-pink colored flowers that are very decorative and also produce fruits which, when immature, are very much like capers. Garden cress can grow to a height of two feet with very little maintenance in the garden, but the edible shoots are usually harvested a week or two after germination.
Cress is an easy to grow plant with very few requirements. It can be broadcast after the winter frosts or throughout the year in temperate climates. Cress will grow in just about any soil but it must be watered well; seeds and plants should be kept moist at all times. Direct sow seed in early spring or late summer through fall. Cress may not do well growing among other plants in the garden as its oil will likely interfere with the growth of other plants. Cress may bolt in summer heat rather quickly, without making any greens, as it’s a cool weather vegetable. Cress can also be grown year around in a windowsill pot, where it will often have a milder flavor. Harvest cress when young; 4″ to 6″ in height for sandwiches and salad greens. Sowing should be repeated every two to three weeks so that there are plenty of young shoots and new leaves for salads. The older leaves of earlier sowings begin to get tough and are not as good as the tender young shoots. They may be cooked as greens at this stage. The seed usually sprouts within a week after sowing, depending on the season, and the leaves are ready to eat within a week or two.