As a very common plant, peppergrass may already be growing around your property or garden without your knowledge. What’s good about this plant, which is also known as the Virginia pepperweed and has another version called garden cress, is that it is completely edible, so making it a part of your home garden is definitely a good idea.
Peppergrass Plant or the Poor Man’s Pepper Defined
Also known for its scientific name Lepidium virginicum, peppergrass can be classified as an annual plant capable of growing in various climates. You can also refer to this plant as a biennial in warmer areas.
The invasive nature of peppergrass makes them capable of living and thriving in urban areas, like some vacant lots found on roadsides. There is also a high possibility for it to grow in a disturbed ground.
Thousands of years ago, peppergrass was grown, cultivated, and eaten fresh in both Ancient Roman and Incan empires. Presently, you can find it almost anywhere in the US. It is capable of spreading easily.
The fact that it is an easy-spreading plant is one reason why many treat it as a weed. Despite that, a lot of foragers and other gardeners are still fond of the sharp and somewhat peppery flavor that this plant carries.
Another fact about this plant is that it belongs to the mustard family. Also called poor man’s pepper before, it boasts of entirely edible parts. It is also possible for you to eat peppergrass leaves either cooked or raw and add them to your vegetable salad along with steamed vegetables and more olive oil.
Moreover, you can use it as an alternative to mustard greens or arugula.
Common and Major Species
A lot of the peppergrass species feature edible leaves that you can use as ingredients in salad recipes. You will also find them useful as garnishes and seasonings, just like salt, garlic, and chile pepper. You may want to finely chop the leaves when making garnishes.
So now, let’s go to its most common and major species:
Common Garden Cress (Lepidium Sativum)
Also called the common peppergrass, you will notice that this plant is a rapidly growing and weedy native that forms part of Western Asia. It can grow widely, especially as you can see in the curled-leaf form. It also has edible seedlings.
Virginia Peppergrass (L. Virginicum)
This species spread throughout the whole of North America. Some also refer to it as canary grass since it has seed stalks that you can feed safely to cage birds. The leaves of this plant are perfect for salads.
Pepperwort (L. Campestre)
Also called the field pepper, this widespread weed is a native plant in Europe. It features arrowlike and hairy steam leaves. It was marketed before as a poison antidote while holding the name mithridate pepperwort.
Physical Features of Peppergrass (Lepidium Virginicum)
The most distinguishable feature of the peppergrass is the raceme. It is derived from the highly branched stem of the plant, providing its topmost part with the same look as that of a bottle brush.
Here are some facts about its most distinguishable physical features:
Peppergrass can grow up to three feet. It is also possible to turn bushy if you plant it in an area without competition, meaning it does not compete with other plants for nutrients. Expect it to begin growing as a low-growing rosette. After that, it will quickly bolt upwards to develop thin and long leaves, seedpods, and tiny white flowers.
Flowers and Seed Pods
Peppergrass naturally features small white flowers composed of four petals. The petals are very small and sometimes, they are also absent. The flowers are also around 1 to 3 mm long and appear like a cross with two to four stamens.
You will also find four cupped and greenish petals and the flowers are arranged and organized in elongated clusters. It has flowers that grow on top of the plant’s racemes.
As for the seed pods, you can see them beneath the flowers. They refer to the small flat discs that feature a notch on a single side and are arranged along the stalks similar to brush bristles. Expect them to appear around May to November.
Peppergrass has lance-shaped, toothed, and alternate leaves. Such thin leaves are quite hairy, too. The leaves at the base are also basal with a growth capability of around two to fifteen cm long. This is also accompanied by a few small lateral lobes and a big terminal lobe.
Growing Peppergrass in your Garden
The invasive nature of peppergrass makes it much easier to grow it in your garden. Generally, the entire process will be easy since this plant is capable of reseeding, though, they also tend to grow in places where they are not supposed to thrive.
In other words, keeping it under control or managing it is often more challenging than initially growing it. Still, they will grow properly provided you give them proper care.
The first thing that you should do is to determine the perfect time to plant peppergrass. As a cold-tolerant annual, you can begin planting two to three weeks before your specific area’s final frost date.
It is fond of cooler temperatures, which means it would be better for you to plant its seeds during the spring and fall seasons. Avoid planting it during the summer season as it is associated with extremely hot temperatures that will be incapable of supporting their growth.
Soil and Location
Aside from determining when is the perfect time to plant peppergrass, you must also identify the most suitable location. Fortunately, it can grow in both partial shade and full sunlight, so finding the best location or spot for it in your garden is not that hard.
Just make sure to keep in mind that it can grow really tall upon maturity. In most cases, this plant can even form into a bush, so you need to find a spot that can provide it with sufficient room for growth.
Also, take note of its ability to reseed on its own, which means it spreads into various areas easily, even in those that you do not want the plant to grow. That said, find a spot where its growth will not end up taking over your garden beds. The best way to handle this is to use a container.
As for the soil, you will also be glad to know that peppergrass can adapt, thrive, and survive in various types of soil. It can even grow even if the soil is of poor quality.
If you want it to grow well, you may want to incorporate compost into the soil. This aids in nourishing this winter plant, thereby increasing its chance of growing and thriving just the way you want it to.
Actual Steps in Planting and Growing Peppergrass in the Garden
Once you are ready to plant peppergrass in your garden, preferably during spring and fall, choose whether you want to grow indoors or outdoors. However, in most cases, you will have to sow the seeds directly in your outdoor garden.
Here’s how to plant and grow peppergrass if you plan to do it outdoors from the start:
- Sow the seeds of peppergrass directly outdoors in your garden.
- Once done, plant the seeds. Each seed should be around 8 to 12 inches apart.
- Thin them later. The reason is that they grow fast. When growing them in perfect conditions, there’s a high chance that they will turn bushy, so ensure that there is enough space for their growth.
- After planting the seeds, cover them with one-half inch dirt. Water deeply.
- Wait for the seeds to germinate, which often happens fast, usually within just four to eight days. This means you can watch and monitor the growth of the seeds if you want.
When planting peppergrass, note that planting a new row is required weekly. You can also do the planting every other week. This is important as it quickly matures, causing the need to harvest the whole plant.
You can guarantee their consistent availability, allowing you to harvest every time you need them if you implement succession planting.
If you prefer starting the seeds of this plant indoors, here are the steps:
- Prepare a potting mix – one guaranteed to be of great quality. Sow the seeds there.
- Water the seeds to promote germination. The good news is that the seed germinates quickly, provided you do this process correctly.
- Once the seeds germinate, transfer them outdoors right away. Ensure that you put the pot that is housing the germinated seed in a warm area. The soil should remain moist, too.
- Wait for the plant to sprout.
It is also necessary to harden the seedlings upon seeing the presence of some true leaves. Avoid putting the plant outdoors if you did not harden the seedlings yet; otherwise, it would only put the plant at risk of dying.
Caring for your Peppergrass
Again, because of how invasive peppergrass is, it also has strong survival skills. This means there is a high chance of growing well regardless of where you decide to plant it.
Even with its high likelihood of surviving any environment and condition, it is still advisable to exert some effort in caring for it by following these tips:
Provide sufficient water
It is advisable to water peppergrass once or two times weekly. This should be enough to support their healthy growth. It may only require a small amount of water, not as much as other plants, but supplying it with the amount it needs can help support its rapid growth and the development of more leaves.
You will be glad to know that the plant is drought-resistant. This means that it can withstand and handle drought. The only thing that may happen during those conditions would be the lower leaves of the plant withering and turning yellow, but in its entirety, it can survive droughts.
Take off the flowers
Again, peppergrass can be reseed. You can prevent that by removing or taking off the flowers prior to them turning to seeds. This simple growing tip can prevent the plant from overtaking and controlling your garden, which also happens when you have weed around.
Know how to handle white cabbage moths
Generally, peppergrass does not have a lot of pest, insect, and disease problems. The only pest that may affect it would be the white cabbage moth. It can seriously damage both young and established plants.
To deal with white cabbage moths, exert some effort in controlling their population. One way to do that is to use floating row covers. This should help in ensuring that the adult moths do not lay eggs on the plants.
In case of infestation, the safest way to treat the plant would be to use the non-toxic insecticide called Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT). This solution can also target caterpillars and worms.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where does the peppergrass of the mustard family grow?
As an annual, peppergrass can grow in the majority of climates. It also grows in various kinds of soil and in partial shade or full sun. In addition, you can see it thriving and surviving in disturbed grounds as well as urban areas, such as roadsides and vacant lots.
You can also expect the peppergrass to grow all over the US, Europe, Central America, Canada, South America, Australia, some parts of Asia, and Mexico. Some of these places even consider it as one of their native plants.
How do you harvest peppergrass?
One reason why peppergrass is well-loved is that every part of it is edible. These include its roots, although a lot of those who grow this plant harvest the leaves, only. The fact that it grows rapidly or quickly proves that you can enjoy it anytime soon.
You have to harvest the whole plant once it reaches 12 inches tall. You can also gain access to several mature leaves to pluck if you do succession planting.
What is peppergrass good for?
Making peppergrass a part of your garden is beneficial as it has several uses. For one, you can use its young seedpods as alternatives or substitutes for black pepper. You can also eat their leaves fresh by adding them to sautéed recipes or in salads.
Peppergrass plants also have edible flowers and roots, allowing you to toss them into a salad. In addition, the roots are great substitutes for horseradish. You just have to get the roots, wash then crush them. After that, put in some vinegar and salt.
It also carries a lot of nutrients and detoxifying properties. This plant is useful in treating diabetes and Vitamin C deficiency and expelling intestinal worms. Moreover, the herb form has diuretic properties plus it is useful in relieving rheumatic pains.
What does peppergrass taste like?
The seed pods and young leaves of peppergrass are all edible and have deliciously spiced and peppery taste. The edible parts also have a mustard-like and sweetly-peppered flavoring, making your garnishes and salads more interesting, especially if you also add some olive oil. You can finely chop these parts to bring out their flavor even further.
Is the entire plant safe to eat?
Yes, it is one of the most edible plants right now as you can eat its entirety and individual parts. You can safely eat its young leaves by using them in your sautéed and potherb recipes. Fresh leaves also work as great additions to healthy and whole grain salads.
The good thing about these leaves is that they are rich in nutrients, including Vitamins A and C, as well as iron and protein. You can also toss the flowers and roots into your salad dishes.
As for the young seedpods, you can expect them to work as a good substitute for black pepper. You can also put the whole plant in your food processor bowl with miso garlic, salt, vinegar, and turmeric. Process them in the food processor, so you can create wild mustard from it.
Can peppergrass survive being planted in a container?
Yes. Many expert gardeners even highly recommend planting peppergrass as it easily reseeds itself. The fact that it is invasive may also cause the plant to overtake the whole garden bed in case you cannot control it.
To grow peppergrass in containers, pick a 6-inch-deep and 6-inch-wide pot. This is the minimum size of pot you should get for each plant. You can also go for a pot that is bigger than that if your goal is to grow multiple plants in just one container.
Growing peppergrass (Lepidium Virginicum) should definitely be one of your goals if you want to fill your garden with the most useful and nutritious winter plants. The good thing about peppergrass or the poor man’s pepper is that it is easy to grow and can adapt to various climates and environmental conditions.
Some even consider pepper grass as wild plants with their strong and resilient nature. In addition, the entire plant is safe to eat and has plenty of nutrients, like Vitamin C, so you will definitely find a lot of uses after you harvest this winter annual.