Garden cress is a fast-growing, edible plant which is related to watercress and mustard and sharing their peppery, tangy flavor and aroma. In some regions garden cress is known as garden pepper cress, pepper grass or pepperwort.
Garden cress is a perennial plant, and most typically used as a salad herb or as a leaf vegetable. Its leaves develop a hotter flavor as the plant matures.
Cress is commonly used in English sandwiches such as egg and cress sandwiches (made with shelled and crushed boiled eggs, mayonnaise, salt and some cress cuttings. Cress can be purchased live in most UK supermarkets.
Cress is best added fresh to recipes and works well with egg dishes, salads and sandwiches. Try roast beef, some sour cream, creamy horseradish sauce and cress on good bread for a wonderful treat.
Cultivation of Garden Cress
Site: Garden cress grows best in moist, rich, well-drained soil or well-rotted compost. Tolerated pH range for garden cress is 4.9 to 8.0. Garden cress prefers full sun and does not tolerate partial shade. Plants must be kept moist during dry periods.
Propagation: Grow garden cress from seed, which should be sown in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Plant garden cress 0.6 cm (1/4 inch) deep. Sow seeds thickly and cover lightly.
Growing: Thin the seedlings (which are edible), leaving about 10 cm (4 inches) between the plants. Garden cress is a cool-season plant. In hot weather, the leaves acquire a less agreeable, hot and peppery flavor. It bolts quickly in hot weather, so make successive plantings every 10 days to ensure a continuous supply of young leaves throughout the season. Garden cress is usually pest and disease-free and cress self-sow readily. Pot garden cress and grow it indoors in a cool, sunny window. Give plants a shower in the sink or tub twice a week. To grow garden cress sprouts, press seeds thickly and evenly on a clean, sterile growing medium, or on moistened paper towels. Keep cold, about 10°C (50°F), and in the dark, for 10 to 14 days. Discard if there are any signs of fungus. (Seedlings are susceptible to damping-off, hence the need for a sterile medium). If raising mustard and cress sprouts together, sow the mustard seeds 3 to 4 days later, as they germinate more quickly than cress.
Harvesting: Use scissors to harvest cress sprouts when the youngest leaves turn green, usually 10 days after sowing. Harvest fresh young cress leaves before the plants flower, when they are very low-growing rosettes. If you wait until the plants bloom, you'll find the leaves are tough and acrid. Stop harvesting upland cress leaves once flower stalks form, as the leaves subsequently become too bitter to eat. Pick garden cress flower heads for fresh use as required.
Culinary Uses: Garden cress adds a piquancy to salads, garnishes and sauces. As a very young plant it give a tang to mustard and cress, but the leaves develop a hotter flavor as the plant matures.