Garlic Cress: Easy To Grow Perennial For The Hungry Gap

An easy to grow perennial, the edible leaves of garlic cress pack a garlicky punch that taste great in salads & pestos. A handy plant to grow in wilder gardens, allotments or containers, it also provides edible leaves over the winter months.

Garlic Cress

Latin Name: Peltaria alliacea
Common Names: Garlic cress, Shieldwort
Family: Brassicaceae
Hardiness Zone: 5-9
Features: Edible leaves, small white flowers May -July

The often overlooked garlic cress is a tough little cookie that makes a great addition to a herb garden, wilder veg patch or food forest. It can spread, though, so growing it in pots is an option for smaller growing spaces. However, if you don’t mind it gently spreading, it can also prove useful as an edible ground cover.

I first came across garlic cress in a foraging book. I love wilder plants, especially perennials, so I decided to buy a small plant from a perennial veg nursery (you can also grow it from seed). As it can spread a bit, I started the plant off in a large stone container on my allotment.

As well as being frost hardy, the main harvesting time for garlic cress is between autumn & spring, making it a great choice for harvest-able leaves during the ‘hungry gap’.

Origins & Cultivation

Native to Europe, garlic cress is a hardy, flowering perennial. The plant can grow up to about 60 cm and produces small white flowers & purple tinged foliage from May to July.

Endemic to south eastern European countries such as Albania, Hungary, Austria & Romania, it’s thought it became naturalised to the UK on the Isle of Skye.

The main harvesting period for garlic cress is actually during winter, when the plant’s not in flower (the flowers are also edible). You’ll find that garlic cress loses its leaves for a month or two during summer, when leaves can also become rather bitter. Cutting the stems down can help to spur on new leafy growth.

When crushed the leaves have a garlic/mustardy smell & it’s this that gives the plant it’s common name.

How To Grow Garlic Cress

Garlic cress growing in a large stone pot.

Like many perennial vegetables, garlic cress is easy to grow, doesn’t really get bothered by pests & will grow without much (if any) fuss from us. It’s used to growing in the wild & woodland areas, so will tolerate sun or partial shade & most soil conditions.

To start off from seed, sow garlic cress seeds in trays or pots of compost during spring or autumn. Ideally, place in a greenhouse or cold frame. If sowing in trays, pot on when they are big enough. Plant out into their permanent positions in summer.

Frost hardy, garlic cress plants will grow year round, with the main harvest being autumn through winter & the flowering period May to July.

You can use the plant as a ground cover on perennial areas of your veg patch, as an edible plant in your permaculture or food forest, or simply as a wilder plant in your garden or allotment. For small growing spaces, or cultivated gardens, growing garlic cress in containers can be a good idea. Whilst not really invasive, it will gently spread over time, given the chance.

How To Propagate Garlic Cress

Garlic cress is really easy to propagate from division. It naturally produces lots of side shoots as the plant grows, so simply split these off (with the root) from the main plant. Then pot up or replant.

If you divide during winter, you may want to pot the division up to give the plant a chance to establish itself. Then plant out the following spring.

Where To Buy Garlic Cress Seeds/Plants

Garlic cress certainly isn’t a plant you’ll see readily available in garden centres or nurseries. In fact, it’s quite hard to come by, despite being easy to grow & propagate. Perhaps it’s just not one of the wilder plants to make it onto the ‘trendy’ list yet. Who knows.

One option, if you’re confident correctly identifying the plant, is to forage a few seeds from a garlic cress plant in the wild. If you can find one.

Otherwise, you can usually find seeds & plants available online, with a bit of patience. Below are a couple of options. I used Incredible Vegetables.

Seeds: You can sometimes find garlic cress seeds on places like Ebay & Etsy. Use these at your own discretion. It’s not always obvious where seeds have come from, or the quality. But they’ve likely come from the owner’s own plant or been foraged.

Plants: At the time of writing, Incredible Vegetables sell small potted plants of garlic cress.

Using Garlic Cress In The Kitchen

If you like garlic, (like I do!), garlic cress can be a fantastic leafy herb to have on hand. Like most edible leaves, it’s really versatile & can be used raw in salads or pestos, sauteed gently in oil or butter or added to soups & stews for a garlicky hit. I also love the fact the plant will generally continue to give you leaves throughout autumn & winter.

Here are some simple ideas on how to use garlic cress in the kitchen:

Fresh Salads:

  • Toss garlic cress leaves into green salads for a burst of freshness & hint of garlic.
  • Combine it with other herbs, such as basil and parsley to create a flavourful herb salad.

Garnish For Soups & Stews:

  • Finely chop & sprinkle over winter soups and stews for some subtle spice.

Fresh Pesto:

  • Blend with nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and garlic to create a pesto with a twist.

Stir-Fries and Sautéed Dishes:

  • Add to stir-fries & sautéed vegetables for a burst of garlicky greens.

Infused Oils and Vinegars:

  • Steep in oils or vinegars to add a subtle garlic flavour to dressings & marinades.

Fermentation Recipes:

You could also try using garlic cress in fermented wild green recipes.

Conclusion

A hardy perennial herb (sometimes grown more as a leafy green veg), garlic cress makes a great addition to the edible garden.

Easy to grow & frost hardy, it’s main harvesting period is during the winter months. This makes it a really beneficial plant, to have on hand, if you want homegrown edible leaves over the winter months.

You Might Also Like:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *