Also called garden cress, curled cress or pepper grass, Lepidium sativum is a grass-like plant that originated in the eastern Mediterranean region. Seeds of the cress plants have been found in the tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Like many other vegetables in the cruciferous family, including kale, cabbage and broccoli, cress contains glycosides and mustard oil. These substances stimulate the metabolism and kindly activity, strengthen the stomach and gallbladder and are believed to have a curative effect on joint disorders and gout. Cress is also an important source of calcium, iron, vitamins C and E (two antioxidant nutrients that help protect the cells from damage by free radicals) and A. You can find cress in many markets year-round, but you can easily grow it at home on a windowsill or in your garden. Homegrown cress is preferred over store-bought cress because it generally has a better flavor.
- Prefers semi-shade. Turns bitter and too peppery in full sun.
- Grows in sand, peat, potting soil and moist paper towels.
- Is 12-20 in. tall when fully grown. Harvest at 2-4 in.
Can be harvested throughout the year. Whether grown indoors or out, cut when the sprouts are 2-4 in. tall.
Garden cress is a relative of watercress (Nasturtium officinale), which grows in stream eddies. Rich in beta-carotene, vitamins and minerals, the young garden cress sprouts are the part that is eaten. Cress helps to purify the blood and stimulate the appetite.
Garden cress is a cool-season annual that bears white or light-pink flowers in June and July. It has long leaves at the bottom of the stem and small, bright-green, feather-like leaves arranged on opposite sides of its stalks at the top. There are plain, broad-leaf and curly varieties that differ in texture, not taste. All flavor. Only the sprouts or the very young shoots of any of the varieties are eaten; if left too long, the cress will be though and bitter.
Keep the seeds and plants evenly moist until harvest time. As garden cress is harvested so early, there is no need to fertilize the plants.
Garden cress is generally not susceptible to diseases and pests. When growing cress indoors, use only sterile potting soil.
Harvesting and processing
Garden cress is harvested when the sprouts are between 2 and 4 inches tall. Use kitchen shears to snip the stems; you should be able to cut the plant back to re-grow four or five times before it goes to seed. Because cress does not store well, snip it just before you plan to use it.
Garden cress is eaten fresh. There is no need to cook it. Add the herb to salad, cottage cheese, egg dishes, tomatoes, potatoes and sandwiches, and use it in place of parsley as a garnish. To preserve the vitamin C in cress, do not add it to soups, sauces or clear broths until after cooking the dishes. If large quantities of cress are consumed, the mustard oil it contains may cause digestive difficulties in some people who are sensitive to it. Therefore, cress should be eaten in moderation.
Extra tip : Cress can be sown in the garden early in the spring, even before you plant other cool-weather crops, such as lettuce. If it's planted among members of the radish family, cress intensifies their flavor.
March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb
Guide to cultivation
Cress can be raised in the garden or on the balcony from March to September. However, it will also thrive on an indoor windowsill throughout the year. Some people grow cress without soil during the winter months, using moist paper towels, seed trays or even special animal-shaped clay pots. That way the sprouts absorb fewer nitrates, which make the cress taste bitter.
- Fill a container almost to the top with sterile potting soil. Scatter the cress seeds over the soil.
- Press the seeds in lightly and sprinkle a small amount of soil over them, just to cover.
- Use a spray bottle to keep the seeds evenly moist. They will sprout after 2-3 days.
- Being harvesting the sprouts when they reach a height of 2 in. cut them with kitchen shears, about ½ in. above the soil.
- Sow some seeds every 7-14 days so that fresh garden cress will always be available.
- Starting in early spring, scatter the seeds or place them in rows about 4 in. apart.
- Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and sprinkle with water. Keep the area moist.
- The sprouts will develop in about 7-20 days, depending on the temperature.
- Being harvesting as soon as the sprouts are 2 in. high. If they are not cut too early or too close to the soil, the plants will grow back and can to the plants will grow back and can be harvested again.
- Slow seeds every 14 days\, but always choose a new location for best results.
Tip : Cress is frost resistant and likes cool, well-drained soil. If sown in March it may grow more quickly covered with plastic or in a cold frame