Winter cress (Barbarea vulgaris) is another of the wildflowers first identified and recorded in the reserve by Country Recorder Richard Aisbitt when he visited last summer. It isn’t a rare species or even particularly unusual; it’s just one of those plants that are so commonplace that nobody bothers to look at it or ask what it is.
Winter cress is a biennial, of the family Brassicaceae. Its flowering period extends from the April of its second year until the end of that summer. Its edible leaves can be harvested right through the winter to the end of its flowering period.
Wild food enthusiasts have a dozen names for it: herb barbara, rocketcress, yellow rocketcress, winter rocket or yellow rocket. WildfoodUK describes it as hot and cress-like with a peppery, slightly bitter taste. The leaves and unopened flower buds can be eaten raw or cooked and the flowers can be used in salads.
It grows anywhere that is damp: roadside ditches, waterway banks, and wastelands.
Winter cress attracts the same species of lepidoptera as most brassicas do but its chemistry differs. So, for instance, diamondback moths will lay their eggs on its leaves but the larvae, when they hatch, will not survive. This has led to winter cress being used as a trap crop, a plant that attracts insects considered to be pests away from nearby crops.
Keep an eye out for it, bright fresh green growth in this dark and cold winter.