Horticulture Magazine

Lepidium Sativum ‘Cress’

garden cress

Overview

Official Plant NameLepidium Sativum
Common Name(s)Cress, Pepperwort, Pepper Grass, Poor Man’s Pepper
Plant TypeAnnual / Herb
Native AreaCultivated
Hardiness RatingH2
ToxicityEdible
FoliageSprouts year-round
FlowersNone
When To SowYear-Round
Harvesting MonthsYear-Round
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun

Exposure
Indoors

Size

Height
0.01 – 0.05M

Spread
0.01 – 0.05M

Soil

Preferred
Any growing media, damp substrate or water

Moisture
Moist

pH
Any

“Lovely addition to egg sandwiches or party food” says one cress fan, who felt enthusiastic enough to review the herb on a popular supermarket website.

And while they’re definitely right – a dash of cress does lift an egg sandwich to the next level – they’re far from capturing the full breadth and glory of the flavour contributions this humble leaf provides.

cress being cut from painted eggs into bread slices
It’s always a laugh when cress is around

While cress is fairly cheap (just 30p at the aforementioned supermarket), we’ve written this guide to growing you on for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it’s as easy as anything. Cress is one of the easiest things we’ve ever grown, making it a great introduction for new gardeners or for those of us trying to show young people the wonders of growing.

And second, it’s versatile. There are several ways you can grow this plant (including inside eggs, as above), making it fun and flexible.

Before we get started, though…

What is cress?

The word cress comes from old Germanic roots, where the word cresso means spicy or sharp. For that reason there are a few plants that go by the name cress, and while it’s unlikely that this confusion will lead to you buying the wrong plant, let us clarify.

This plant is called Lepidium sativum. It’s the cress we’re all familiar with, and its closely related to mustard, as evidenced by their feisty flavour.

In different parts of the UK goes by regional names like pepperwort, pepper grass or, somewhat judgmentally, “poor man’s pepper”.

cress growing from damp toilet tissue
Delightfully peppery regardless of your socio-economic status

How to grow cress

Now you’re properly introduced, let’s take a look at how to grow cress. As we mentioned earlier there are a few ways to do this, so we’ll be going through a couple –

  • Growing cress indoors
  • Growing cress outdoors
  • Growing cress in eggs

The first two are fairly normal; it’s just a case of deciding where you want to grow and, if you opt for outdoors, checking that conditions are correct.

Growing in eggs isn’t the most practical option if your end goal is a large harvest, but if you’ve got kids (or you’re a child at heart yourself), we recommend giving it a go.

First up –

How to grow cress indoors

Growing cress indoors is easy. All you need is a container and something to put the seeds on (potting mix will do, but you can use kitchen roll or toilet roll as well).

Here are the steps –

  1. Either spread a thin layer of potting mix, or line the bottom of the container with a layer of tissue a couple of sheets thick.
  2. Add a little water to get the mix or tissue moist. Not too wet!
  3. Sprinkle a few seeds on top.
  4. Cover the top of the container with cling film to trap moisture while letting light in. This will encourage better growth.
  5. Water occasionally, either with a gently running tap or with a spray bottle.

If you prefer the aesthetic of growing cress in a flowerpot instead of a container, you can grow it more traditionally as well.

To do this, add soil to a flowerpot and spread seeds on top, then push each one gently just below the surface. Cress also works well in a windowsill herb garden.

While cress grows just fine on tissue, it will have access to far more nutrients when grown in soil. This will keep it growing for longer and extend your harvest – something to bear in mind when deciding how to grow it!

How to grow cress outdoors

If you’ve decided to grow outside, cress likes a cool and shady spot. Growing in direct sunlight leads to bitterness, making it much less pleasant to eat.

Here are the steps for growing cress outdoors –

  1. Get hold of some cress seeds.
  2. Find your cool and shady spot.
  3. Sow seeds in rows, sprinkling a good amount of seeds into each row. They should be around half a centimetre below the surface.
  4. Water the cress right away, then water each day.
  5. Once your seeds start to germinate you should thin them out, leaving the strongest plants a couple of centimetres from each other.
cultivated rows of Lepidium sativum in a garden bed
Rows and rows of cress to grow

When growing cress outdoors you have a few options to make things a bit more interesting.

First up is intercropping, which involves growing cress around other plants. Carrots and cress are a good pairing, as are cress and radishes.

You can also set yourself up with a continuous harvest by staggering planting: to do this just plant out a new row each fortnight, starting in early spring.

It’s OK to plant out cress before the last frost as it’s fairly hardy, so bear this in mind when planning planting times.

How to grow cress in eggs

As we said earlier, this isn’t particularly practical if your goal is a big harvest, but it is good fun if you’re looking to entertain children.

Growing cress inside eggs is simple –

  1. Gently remove the top of an egg.
  2. Remove the contents, ideally integrate them into a recipe but they can go down the sink if need be.
  3. Wash out the egg and leave it to dry.
  4. Optional step: decorate the eggs with felt tip pens once dry. Faces are favourite, because then the cress looks like hair.
  5. Add a ball of cotton wall to the egg so that it sits snugly a centimetre or so below the rim.
  6. Gently moisten the cotton wool.
  7. Sprinkle a few cress seeds on top.
  8. Pop the eggs on a windowsill somewhere. Top tip: use an egg box or egg cups to keep them upright!
  9. Wait 10-15 days for your funky egg cress faces to be ready.

Kids love seeing things grow, and mixing in arts and crafts is a great way to make things even more exciting. Trimming the cress they’ve grown onto their lunch is the perfect way to cap off this activity!

How to harvest cress

One thing you’ll notice about cress is that it grows quickly. It’s ready to eat within a couple of weeks of planting and tastes better when young, so don’t leave it too long to harvest.

Harvesting is easy, too: simply trim down the stalks with scissors or, if you’ve got time to spare, by pinching them with your fingers.

Once harvested the stalks will continue to grow, giving you more cress in a few days time. Most crops will yield 3-5 harvests before going to seed, at which point they’ll start to taste bitter and unpleasant.

While cress is in its early seed leaf stage you can eat the whole stalk and seeds if you want to.

How to use cress

Cress is really versatile thanks to its distinctive but not overpowering flavour.

Whether used as a garnish to provide a little fresh crunchy spice, or as an integral part of the dish, you’ve got a lot of options.

avocado and cress on toast
Yes please.

Here we’ve gone for something a little bit trendy to demonstrate the ability of cress to get the taste buds tingling, but by no means are you limited to hip dishes like this.

Perhaps the most famous use of cress is to work a handful through a simple leaf salad. Just like how certain lettuce leaves carry a little bit of spice, cress is a popular way to add another dimension to a dish that can otherwise, let’s face it, feel a little bit boring.

Paired with a dressing with a little pepper to it, you’ll probably find yourself returning to this combination fairly often!

One of our top uses for cress is the humble jacket potato. Cut the potato in half, add some cottage cheese or cream cheese or similar, then add a crack of black pepper and a handful of freshly trimmed cress. Delicious.

And, of course, there’s the traditional egg and cress sandwich, as our enthusiastic cress reviewer noted earlier.

Whatever you decide to do with it, cress is a deceptively versatile crop that you’ll get a lot of kitchen mileage from. We’ve not even touched on the common soups and fish dishes that cress can enhance, let alone the more creative and exciting applications.

Cress please!

Thanks for reading our guide to growing cress. Whether you go for indoor or outdoor growing, we’re sure you’ll get a lot from this plant.

It’s cheap, tasty, easy to grow, and delicious: when it comes to deciding what to grow at home, you really can’t get much better than that!

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