A versatile biennial often grown as an annual, Upland Cress is easy to grow and ready to harvest at any stage of its life: as sprouts, microgreens, salad leaves, or as a a mature, cookable green. It stays low to the ground, sending out its broad, lobed leaves in a circular shape originating from a central point. This cool season crop is native to Europe and has been useful and popular since the 17th century. A flowering stalk of 1–2 feet tall will grow from the center bearing yellow flowers: at this point the leaves are probably too spicy to eat.
Seed Depth: 1/4″
Space Between Plants: 4″
Space Between Rows: 4–6″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–60°F
Days for Germination: 5–15
Sow Indoors: Not recommended.
Sow Outdoors: 4–6 weeks before the average last frost date. In USDA Zones 8 and higher, start in fall through early winter for spring harvest. Plant more seeds every 2 weeks for a continuous supply.
Vegetative: Can be propagated by taking stem cuttings or division.
Grows best in cool, mild weather. Frost tolerant, it can be found growing wild in the humid mountains of Appalachia, and in southern climates it will survive through the winter without protection. If grown in heat, flavor will get very spicy as the plant matures, but young leaves will taste just fine.
Natural: Full sun to partial shade. In heat, provide more protection from the sun.
Artificial: Grows well under fluorescent or LED lamps, although it will also do well in a sunny windowsill. Provide 6–8 hours of light daily.
Soil: Prefers moist but well-drained sandy to loamy soil; however, it is adaptable and will do well in most soil types. A pH of between 6.0 and 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Sprouts will do well on a seed tray or soilless media, including moistened paper towels.
Hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic systems, including ebb and flow media-based systems and NFT.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems. In fact, cress has been grown aeroponically in space!
Water: Requires low levels of water when grown over the winter and moderate to high levels when grown in warmer seasons. The most important requirement is that the soil is kept consistently moist but not fully soaked.
Nutrients: Requires moderate levels of nutrients. Amend soil with compost before planting. If overwintering, add some fertilizer to boost growth after the danger of frosts has passed.
Pruning: Pinch plants back to promote new growth.
Mulching: Use mulch to conserve soil moisture.
Companions: Grows well with beets, carrots, sunchoke, corn, sunflowers, pole beans, dill, lettuce, onion, spinach, tomato, nasturtium, and cilantro. Taller plants will provide it with needed shade during summertime heat.
Harvest: Sprouts are harvested by cutting at soil level about 10 days from starting seeds. Harvest leaves before plants begin to flower by cutting the outer leaves at the base of the plant. The flowers are also edible and should be eaten immediately after harvest.
Storage: Keep the leaves in the refrigerator for 2–3 days in a plastic bag or container.
Other Names: American Cress, Cassabully, Bank Cress, Black Wood Cress, Belle Isle Cress, Bermuda Cress, Early Yellowrocket, Early Wintercress, and Scurvy Cress.
Preserve: Not typically preserved, you could dehydrate leaves and store for later use in soups or smoothies. Another option is chopping leaves into small bits, immersing them in water, and freezing them in ice cube trays.
Prepare: Wash and dry leaves just before using. The plant can be used at any time from sprouts to fully mature leaves. Most often used in salads and soups, it adds a peppery spice to dishes. You can also add Upland Cress to quiche recipes or pile onto a sandwich. Older leaves are best cooked by steaming, stir frying, or boiling. It’s also a suitable substitute for its relative, watercress.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin C (three times as much as oranges!) as well as vitamin(s) A, K, E, folic acid, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Seeds contain high levels of protein.
Medicinal: Upland Cress has been traditionally used to heal wounds and as a mild diuretic. Although not often used as a “treatment” outside of these capabilities, its rich nutrient profile and low levels of sodium, cholesterol, and fat make it a healthy addition to any diet and can help in encouraging weight loss.
Use cress sprouts to top this potato and green bean side dish.